Joyce Terhaar

Joyce Terhaar: Public spotlight spurred action in Sacramento Public Library scandal

Sometimes what The Bee provides along with our watchdog investigations is a giant megaphone.

That's a simplification, of course. But the recent sentencing in the public corruption scandal involving the Sacramento Public Library came about only because The Bee provided a public spotlight – and additional investigation – that a library whistle-blower couldn't.

Let me back up a bit.

In June 2007 – almost five years ago – The Bee published a story by Christina Jewett revealing that the Sacramento Public Library had launched an internal investigation in response to our public records request to examine invoices of $1.3 million in work billed by Hagginwood Services Inc.

Those documents showed that the contractor hired subcontractors to do work, then as much as tripled the final cost billed to the library, pocketing the difference. We had received a tip about the billing and began investigating to confirm it.

Hagginwood was owned by Janie Rankins-Mayle, wife of the library's security supervisor, James Mayle. As we learned over time, the two worked in concert with facilities supervisor Dennis Nilsson, who was the idea man behind the kickback scheme.

Our first story reported that employee Diane Boerman had brought the billing practices to the attention of her bosses but was brushed off. The story also quoted Sacramento police as saying the case appeared to be a civil matter, though "If the investigation done by another entity turns up evidence consistent with criminal misconduct, we're definitely interested."

The Bee's own review of the billing revealed substantial markups in bills charged to the library system. Our stories forced a response from the library, and by October 2007 the library released its own investigation, which revealed that administrators were warned of potential problems as early as November 2005. Library officials then announced they would take their investigation to police and the District Attorney's Office.

When the resulting grand jury began its investigation, we had another story to report: that then-library director Anne Marie Gold had asked her staff to notify top library officials immediately if grand jurors came to any of the branches asking questions. That request had been approved by the library board, which comprises Sacramento City Council members and the county Board of Supervisors.

At a minimum, that kind of request looks bad. Especially for public officials who already had ignored a whistle-blower. Our stories kept public attention on the investigation.

The grand jury found even more problems, including credit card abuses and uncollected fines worth $2.5 million. It was harsh in its assessment of Gold, finding she had ignored employees who tried to warn of the kickback scheme.

Much has happened since then. Gold retired. Boerman, who said she suffered retaliation after she blew the whistle, sued the library and Gold. Bee reporter Andy Furillo will be reporting on that case when it comes to trial in March. We're interested in the results for many reasons, not the least of which is our belief that we all benefit from the risk whistle-blowers take to do the right thing.

And last Monday, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Allen H. Sumner sentenced the three people who corrupted the system and stole $800,000 in public money. Nilsson received 14 years, eight months; Mayle received five years, four months; and Rankins-Mayle received six years.

Sometimes, it takes a megaphone.