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For This Whistleblower, It Feels Like Deja Vu

Courtesty of Joe Vincoli.

North Carolina employees in the private-sector have greater whistleblower protection thanks in large part to man named Joe Vincoli.

Two years ago, his story spurred lawmakers to expand protections beyond state employees. 

But Vincoli, who has helped save tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, was recently fired – without cause.  This time by the state. 

All documents referred to in this piece can be found here.

For the second time in his career, Joe Vincoli’s desire to do the right thing may have cost him his job.

The tall, thin 56-year-old from Forsyth County clearly has a desire to do what’s right.

”I don’t think it’s an act that other people would not do," Says Vincoli,  "It’s just kind of like if this ended up on your desk and you thought it was important.  And you’re an ethical person you feel that this needs to be handled professionally."

Vincoli’s saga began in 2006 while working as an administrative director at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital. He managed contracts – including one with the State Health Plan – an insurance system that covers teachers, state employees and lawmakers

In essence the hospital had been overcharging the state insurer for years.  The hospital disagreed with Vincoli. He was fired.    

Later Vincoli went to the state with these allegations.  An investigation – and audit – backed him up.  The state had overpaid Baptist Hospital by as much as $1.4 million.

The state never recovered any of those funds.

By 2010 Joe Vincoli had moved over to the public sector, working as a Special Assistant to the Secretary for Inmate Medical services.   He was essentially a forensic accountant.

Vincoli and the team he worked with were tasked with finding ways to keep healthcare costs down for convicts who could not be treated at prison facilities.  In his first year the state was paying 95 million dollars for such treatments.  By year three that number was down to 45 million dollars.

Vincoli consistently received the highest ratings possible. 

In fact, the final comment in what would be Joe Vincoli’s last performance review was just three words: "Thank you Joe!"  That was last June. 

Earlier that year a memo was circulated to Department of Public Safety employees saying they had a   responsibility to report any and all damage to property, theft or the misuse of state funds.  Around the same time, Vincoli had come to possess documents that – he believed - showed the state could still claim the money it had overpaid Baptist hospital. 

So Vincoli filled out a form detailing his renewed allegations.  "I’m not on a mission where I’m sure that I’m right.  That I’m sure that these documents are material," says Vincoli, "I was looking for someone to tell me what I was supposed to do with them."

The Department of Public Safety provided WFAE with an email chain.

It shows when Vincoli didn’t receive timely replies to his requests he followed up.

When Vincoli was told the case was closed he persisted.

He even questioned the impartiality of W. Ellis Boyle – who serves as both Chief Counsel and Deputy Secretary of the Department of Public Safety.  Boyle had once worked at a law firm that represented Baptist Hospital. 

On August 23, Boyle fired back in a tersely worded note.  Here is an excerpt:

Mr. Vincoli,

You are NOT to waste any further government-time on this issue.  Every time you raise this topic, you force the leadership of DPS to waste time thinking about it and responding to you.  Do not do it again. 

Vincoli's note back was brief.  "I told him I would comply with his directive.”

Joe Vincoli considered the matter, finally, closed.

Some six weeks later Vincoli’s employment status was changed.  He was no longer a rank and file public employee.  He was now a manager.  While it sounds like a promotion, it isn’t.  It came with no pay increase, no staff to supervise, and no additional responsibilities. 

The reclassification also meant Vincoli could be fired – without cause – at any time. 

Two months later he was.  Vincoli believes it was because he dared to challenge W. Ellis Boyle. 

Pamela Walker, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety says there, "is and was no retaliation," and Vincoli was fired because others in the department could now do his job.  Which means the department could save money by eliminating Vincoli's $96,000 salary.

Walker added that the department will keep the position however.

As for Joe Vincoli he was never given a reason for being fired.  He received no severance.  He was only paid for half of his last day of work.

Vincoli’s letter of termination includes a section saying he would be given priority when applying for other state jobs.  He’s applied for more than two dozen other jobs.

But he has yet to be called in for a single interview.

In the meantime, Vincoli and his lawyer are fighting to have him reinstated.  The agency plans to post Vincoli’s old job soon with a salary range of $58,000 to more than $127,000. 

Tom Bullock decided to trade the khaki clad masses and traffic of Washington DC for Charlotte in 2014. Before joining WFAE, Tom spent 15 years working for NPR. Over that time he served as everything from an intern to senior producer of NPR’s Election Unit. Tom also spent five years as the senior producer of NPR’s Foreign Desk where he produced and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon among others. Tom is looking forward to finally convincing his young daughter, Charlotte, that her new hometown was not, in fact, named after her.