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Hiring a family affair in Mass. government

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(MyFoxBoston.com) – The largest state agency is a nest of nepotism where relatives of higher-ups are routinely hired over more qualified applicants, a state HR insider tells FOX Undercover, a claim that's backed up by hiring and payroll records at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
            
"There's vast, vast amounts of nepotism, vast amount of crony hiring. And it's all done by gaming the hiring process to make it look legit when it is not legit," the HR insider told FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet.
            
The whistle blower, who spoke on the condition he not be identified, said "a lot of the resumes will go right in the garbage" unless they have the right connection to steer them through the hiring process at Health and Human Services, which employees about 22,000.
            
"I came into state government to serve the people. And what I found was state employees serving themselves," he said.
            
For example, there's Donna Shetler, who works for Health and Human Services as a human resources manager. Her two sons both got jobs in the department for which she provided HR services.
            
"Can we ask you a couple of quick questions?" Beaudet asked her.
            
"Nope. Sorry. Got nothing to say to you," she replied.
            
"How did both your sons get hired?" Beaudet asked.
            
"I got nothing to say," she said.
            
One of her sons has since left. The other, Christopher Shetler, followed his mother when she moved to another department, and now he's also in human resources, working with his mom on the 7th floor of a state office building at 600 Washington St. in Downtown Crossing.
            
"We're actually doing a story about nepotism. How people get their jobs. And I'm just wondering, did you get your job because of your mom?" Beaudet asked Christopher Shetler.
            
"No. I got my job because I interviewed for it," he replied.
            
"You followed her from one agency to another. Is that just a coincidence?" Beaudet asked.
            
"I guess so. That's all I got. That's it," he replied.
            
But our insider says it would be an unbelievable coincidence for one relative to follow another to the same department.
            
"The chance of that happening in the HR world, the chance of that happening in a legitimate hiring process, is the chance of being attacked by a great white shark and Big Foot on the same day. It just doesn't happen," he said.
            
But they happen all the time in state government, the insider says.
            
The insider says he says he overheard state human resources personnel officer Kathy Redfern make a phone call to get her daughter a state job.
            
"Her exact words were, ‘My daughter is applying for this position, and I would like special consideration given to her,'" he said.
            
"What did that mean?" Beaudet asked him.
            
"Special consideration means hire my kid," he replied.
            
Redfern denied helping her daughter get a job with the state.
            
"No, I did not," she said.
            
"How did she get that job?" Beaudet asked.
            
"She applied for it," Redfern replied.
            
Her daughter, Jessica Redfern, was hired as a nursing assistant by the Department of Public Health, which falls under Health and Human Services, where her mother works.
            
"Did you ask that special consideration be given to her?" Beaudet asked.
            
"Nope. Did not," she replied.
            
"No funny business going on?" Beaudet asked.
            
"No," Redfern replied. "It's entry level. I mean, she just applied for it."
            
Roubina Panian is another child of a state worker to also get a state job. She was hired as a social worker by the Department of Transitional Assistance, which falls under Health and Human Services, where her mother, Rita Panian, is a human resources supervisor.
            
FOX Undercover shared the family connections with the Patrick administration. Spokesman Alec Loftus said the state had already been tipped off to some of the connections, investigated them and found no wrongdoing.
            
"Shouldn't people who work in human resources avoid even the appearance of a conflict?" FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet said.
            
"Absolutely, and when we did our review we determined there was no conflict," Loftus said. "All the proper procedures were followed and all the proper disclosures were made and all of these candidates met and exceeded the entry requirements for these positions."
            
But the last point about minimum entry requirements is up for debate in the case of job applications filled out by some other relatives of state workers.
            
Janice Raposo was hired as a social worker in the Department of Transitional Assistance, a job that pays up to $58,000-a-year.
            
She has three relatives who work for that department, which she noted on her application. She has a bachelor's degree in sales and meeting management, and her past jobs include sales management positions at hotels and work as a registration specialist at the Lahey Clinic.
            
"Three relatives working for DTA and then she gets a job in DTA with no social work experience? How is that possible?" Beaudet asked Loftus.
            
"All of these candidates met the minimum entry requirements of the position, which is a college degree or two years of relevant experience," Loftus replied.
            
Loftus also says Susan Fratus met the requirements to be a social worker in the Department of Transitional Assistance, where her brother Richard works as an assistant director. She has no college degree and her most recent job was working for 10 years as store manager at Cardsmart.
            
"No college degree. No social work experience. That's the most qualified candidate?" Beaudet asked Loftus.
            
"We have candidates, like I said, on the list that you sent me that had master's degrees, were trilingual," Loftus replied.
            
Actually there's just one person with a master's degree who's trilingual. Christopher Fahlbeck is also a social worker at the Department of Transitional Assistance. He and his brother both got hired at DTA within three months of each other.  Their mom also works for department.
            
"How is it possible that her two sons get hired in the same agency she works in?" Beaudet said.
            
"Like I said, we did the review and we determined everything went by the book," Loftus replied.
            
But that's the problem, according to the insider.
            
"Basically, what they do is they rig the whole process from start to finish to get the people in they want to get in, but create a paper record to make it all look legit, so if anybody comes asking questions, ‘Here! We just hired the best candidate.'"
            
The state denies that resumes of more qualified people are thrown out. But the spokesman did say the administration will look into the allegation that the HR employee made a phone call and asked for special consideration to get her daughter hired.
           
FOX Undercover contacted everyone named in this story. Most didn't get back to us or declined to comment, but we did hear from the husband of Judith Fahlbeck, whose two sons work with her. He said his sons are both qualified for their jobs and he isn't aware of any influence his wife had over the hiring process.

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