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DSS Screw-Up In Hiring Woman Convicted Of Prostitution And Larceny Baffling

The Hartford Courant

No wonder state House Republican leader Larry Cafero is in a state of disbelief. The recently unearthed case of Suki L. Handly revealed alarming deficiencies in the hiring process and supervisory controls in the state Department of Social Services that never should have happened.

DSS says the problems have now been fixed. We hope so. Thorough background checks are necessary with every hire.

It came to light recently that DSS did an incomplete job of checking the background of Ms. Handly before she was hired in 2008 to distribute welfare benefits in the Manchester regional office. Interviewers failed to detect her previous convictions for prostitution, drug possession and larceny in the 1990s, even though she had admitted during the job interview process to being in trouble with the law before.

And state officials only belatedly and by accident discovered that Ms. Handly and another employee were stealing money from DSS. The error was further compounded by the agency's failure to report this illegal use of state funds and the 2010 arrests, guilty pleas and subsequent suspended sentences of Ms. Handly and Brenda D. Edwards to the state auditors, which it is obligated by law to do.

"What are we doing?" Mr. Cafero asked. "Are you kidding me? You hired a convicted prostitute and thief to handle state money? Hello!"

Would the theft of more than $44,000 in welfare benefits have occurred had DSS done a more thorough job of screening job applicants? Probably not.

DSS says it has taken steps to improve the hiring process, including a greater emphasis on screening, along with making certain that the auditors are notified of irregularities as required by law. We trust they got the message: Even vast agencies with big budgets and heavy caseloads need to pay attention to detail.

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