Mail Chauvinists

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In the course of finding that information, Ashley learned that a fellow postal inspector, Thomas Ward, had previously conducted an investigation concerning a large quantity of computer equipment purchased by the Management Information Systems Office for the South Florida division of the U.S. Postal Service. Ashley had conducted many similar audits while in New York and says she was stunned when she looked in the file. "I had to shake my head, because all these flags went up that something was wrong," she says. "If you go in and do an audit and something comes up like that, you ask for someone who has more experience than you to go in and do an in-depth audit on that unit. That was never requested."

The audit had concluded that proper procurement procedures were not being followed because requisitions made by Martinez were being approved by Lenn, who was her superior. "In the postal service, if you have someone working for you that's kin, you cannot sign off on any paperwork," Ashley explains. "You have to go above to the next person. That was not done."

The file had been closed in January 1999; Ashley allowed West to look through the closed file. Ashley claims that the release of such information is routine by postal inspectors. Indeed, Ashley points out that Robert Bohde, Ward's supervisor, allowed West to peruse the file again during a later meeting among her, West, Ward, and Bohde.

Bohde, however, soon notified Mark Grey, the inspector in charge, that Ashley had shown West the file. Grey in turn reported her to the Internal Affairs Office in Washington, D.C., for releasing information in violation of regulations. Although Grey attended the meeting during which West saw the file, Bohde was not similarly reported. Ashley believes she was singled out for discipline because management didn't want the closed case resurrected.

Internal Affairs investigators took affidavits from all parties involved in the affair. Statements from some of them do seem to suggest a reluctance to reopen the closed case.

Bohde told investigators that he asked West for specific details about his investigation but that West declined, saying that privacy regulations at the IRS precluded such disclosure. "He was like a salesman trying to sell a product he couldn't show," Bohde stated. "I asked a number of pointed questions trying to ascertain what he had that would be of interest to us and our old case. In one response, Agent West stated he had seen our case file and gave his assurance that he had information that relates to what we were looking for." In his affidavit, Bohde stated he didn't recall handing the file to West.

Ward stated in his affidavit that he had told Ashley twice that he was not interested in assisting in West's investigation unless the IRS agent gave him more information.

West ultimately conducted the Lenn-Martinez investigation with an agent of the U.S. Postal Service's Office of the Inspector General, which is based in Washington, D.C., and oversees the inspection service. As that investigation continued through 1999, Ashley was issued a letter of warning, a reprimand that led to an "unacceptable" rating in her annual review late that fall. She filed separate complaints with the EEOC for the letter and the poor review, claiming that both Ward and Bohde had let West see the closed file but were not disciplined. She was punished, she claims, because she was a black woman. Ashley points out the bitter irony that her efforts to advance the Lenn investigation were rewarded with a reprimand while Gutierrez now crows about the role other inspectors played.

Tension remained between Ashley and her supervisor, Richard Koss, after the unacceptable review. Ashley claims that employees who file EEOC complaints become targets of harassment by management. The antagonism affected her health, elevating her blood pressure and robbing her of sleep because of anxiety. The showdown with Koss began August 18, 2000, when he informed Ashley that she was to work the next day, Saturday, on surveillance. She asked to be excused from the detail because she had planned to visit her sister in Tallahassee on the weekend, a request Koss denied. The exchange compounded her stress level, leaving her with tightness in her chest and labored breathing. She visited a doctor that day, and he prescribed her an anti-anxiety drug and provided a note that she was not to work until Monday, August 21. She did not, however, notify Koss that she would not be at work on Saturday.

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Wyatt Olson
Contact: Wyatt Olson