• Oops? VA Employee Involved In Purchase Process For Her Family’s $4.25 Million Property

    A project manager participated in a property evaluation and selection group all the while knowing that five of the properties ranked were owned by her family, according to a report by the watchdog at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

    The VA ended up purchasing a $4.25 million dollar property owned by her relative.

    “Oh my God, I shouldn’t be here,” is what project manager Wendy Gillis said during the site selection process for the Fayetteville VA Medical Center’s new facility in North Carolina. Out of 16 of the potential sites for review, five were owned by her family. Investigators stated that if the VA had actually asked Gillis to sign a conflict of interest form, it’s unclear if she could have signed it in good faith.

    The document doesn’t name Gillis explicitly, but The Fayetteville Observer determined that Gillis was in fact behind the improper conduct because in other VA documents, she is listed as project manager. The Observer also managed to receive a copy of the original complaint filed where her name is displayed.

    The report covers Gillis’ struggle when discussing her role in the project with medical center associate director Joyce Alexander-Hines. Gillis admitted to Hines that a particular plot of land belonged to her husband’s family, but Hines stated that if she wanted to continue, she could, so long as she promised to be fair. Gillis mentioned that her immediate family would not benefit from the VA’s purchase of the property. Later, Gillis told investigators that she figured she was fulfilling her obligations by telling Hines of the family connection.

    Although investigators did not find a criminal conflict of interest level, they stated that Gillis should have recused herself from the process immediately. In staying on as part of the team, Gillis’ actions constitute what under federal ethics regulations is referred to as an “appearance of a conflict of interest.” Other VA leaders have also been blamed for knowing about the potential conflict of interest and not doing a thing about it. Part of the reason VA leaders failed to act is because they thought, since Gillis wasn’t the only person on the selection team, a family connection wasn’t very notable.

    Even though the property has been purchased, the VA is unsure who actually owns the land because, according to records, the contracts were improperly signed.

    Within 90 days, the VA’s deputy undersecretary for health for operations and management will make a decision what consequences will befall Gillis and other local VA leaders—if any. For starters, four local VA leaders will have to take ethics courses, as they “failed to properly discharge the duties of their positions when they individually learned of the possible conflict of interest.”

    Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter

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