State welfare officials were very happy when they hired Suki L. Handly in 2008 as a new employee to help distribute welfare benefits in the Manchester regional office.
What state officials did not know was that Handly – who was hired under the administration of former Gov. M. Jodi Rell — was also a convicted prostitute with criminal convictions for drug possession and larceny, according to public records.
They also did not know what would happen next: Handly would begin stealing money from the state in a complicated scheme and did not stop until she was caught and arrested for first-degree larceny for stealing more than $44,000 in benefits, officials said. She confessed to the thefts and told an investigator that she was “battling addiction to Oxycontin” at the time of the larcenies, according to an arrest warrant affidavit by the chief state’s attorney’s office.
Now, the state auditors and House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero are wondering why they knew nothing about the case of Handly and two other state employees concerning the misuse of state funds. Handly’s criminal conviction came to light recently when the auditors sent a letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that said the state Department of Social Services, which oversees public welfare programs, had violated state law by failing to notify the auditors about the illegal handling of state money.
The auditors had been unaware of the arrests of Handly, of Storrs, and a second state worker, Brenda D. Edwards, 52, of New London, until they conducted an audit earlier this year – despite the cases dating back to 2010. Both Handly and Edwards were charged with a felony count of first-degree larceny by defrauding a public community, and they both pleaded guilty, records show. Each woman received suspended sentences and did not serve time in prison. A third worker was fired in August 2012 after allegations of fraud.
The state auditors, though, never heard a word about the illegal use of state funds.
“They still never told us about it, even after some people were found guilty,” said Robert M. Ward, a former state legislator who is now a state auditor in the nonpartisan office. “Our issue is they need to tell us. Part of the transparency is that they report it to us.”
Cafero said he is not interested in placing blame on any particular person, but he said the state needs to take the proper steps to ensure that similar problems do not happen again.
“What are we doing?” Cafero asked. “Are you kidding me? You hired a convicted prostitute and thief to handle state money? Hello!”
Handly, now 38, could not be reached for comment on two cellphone numbers that she had given to state officials.
After the thefts became known, an internal memo by the DSS fraud division – obtained in a Freedom of Information request by The Courant – told supervisors that Handly had been convicted of larceny in 1997, possession of drugs in 1999, and prostitution in 1999. She had also spent a month in jail on a charge of failure to appear in court.
Those arrests all came years before Handly was hired by the state in March 2008. She was paid $51,436 by the state during the 2010 fiscal year.
The state auditors never mentioned the workers’ names in their letter to Malloy, but an investigation by The Courant details Handly’s long odyssey into becoming a convicted felon.
It had a happy start back in her former hometown of Enfield.
Handly was an honors student at Enrico Fermi High School, and she was interviewed by The Courant when she was the junior co-captain on the cheerleading team in 1991 that went to the national championships in Nashville, Tenn. Handly was so accomplished that she competed individually for the title of national high school cheerleader of the year and a $2,500 college scholarship. The massive event drew 4,000 cheerleaders from 350 teams nationwide.
By March 2008, she landed a fulltime job with the state – which ended in 2010 when she submitted a hand-written, one-sentence resignation letter after telling her supervisor about improper dealings in the welfare office.
Internal DSS documents, obtained under a Freedom of Information request, show that Handly’s activities were discovered by accident by a supervisor when “a screen print of an underpayment was found on a printer’’ in Handly’s unit in 2010. The supervisor “advised Handly that she should ‘come clean’ on what she was doing, and, if not’’ the supervisor would tell management.
Further details are at www.courant.com