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Drug Testing News

Probe of drug test lab set to start next week


Thursday, September 04, 2003
By Cynthia Neff - Merced Sun-Star

Merced County officials say an investigation into a local drug-testing lab - which may not be as squeaky clean as many of its tests for Child Protective Services were - will begin next week.

The owner of the Merced-based lab, HealthTec, was charged Friday with allegedly selling “clean” tests to people trying to regain custody of their children from the county’s CPS.

Human Services Agency Director Ana Pagan said she plans on sifting through the hundreds of tests that HealthTec did for CPS, and she’s located two people who may be able to start an investigation next week.

She declined to discuss details about the potential investigators until an agreement with them is reached.

“There are a lot of conflicting stories and disagreements in terms of timeliness, and I think everyone is telling the truth from their perspective,” Pagan said. “I kind of have to sort through all that.”

In the past week, several questions regarding CPS and the drug-testing lab have been raised by county officials and residents alike.

And Deputy Director of Social Services Kathy Hassett, who oversees Child Protection Services, was temporarily reassigned until the investigations are complete.

Pagan said in an earlier interview that about two months ago a judge advised CPS not to use HealthTec. Two agents with the Merced-Mariposa Narcotic Task Force also stated that concerns had been made known to CPS over the last few years.

However, county officials were not given specific information on pending investigations by the task force until after the arrests of HealthTec owners Mitchell Thomas Griffin, 38, and his sister, Cathy Lee Decker, 41, according to agent John Carlisle with the Merced-Mariposa Narcotic Task Force.

“It’s safe to say that concerns have been brought up to CPS administration by their own staff and by me on a number of occasions,” he said. “And to my knowledge nothing has been followed up on.”

Cmdr. Larry Slate added that the task force couldn’t dive into an investigation until enough information presented itself. Though concerns have reportedly been stated for around three years, an investigation didn’t start until about five months ago.

Said Pagan: “I really don’t want to get into this ‘they said,’ ‘he said,’ ‘she said.’”

But she stressed that the drug test is not the only criteria used by CPS to determine whether a child should be returned to a home.

“It’s only one of multiple criteria,” she said. “We get clean drug tests and we still don’t return the child - there are a lot of other dynamics involved in this, and you can’t hang everything on a positive or negative drug test. We have people who abuse their children that don’t touch drugs.”

HealthTec’s Griffin was charged with three counts of preparing false documents for court use, one count of perjury, being under the influence of a controlled substance, and possession of a controlled substance.

Decker was arrested Friday and charged with one count of falsifying documents for court use.

According to task force agents, information has been filtering out over the past three years that Griffin was selling clean tests to parents who wanted to get their children back after having them taken away by CPS for drug-related offenses.

A condition to regain their children was that the individual submit to drug testing.

For this, CPS reportedly paid $100 per test to Health-Tec. Griffin allegedly would then charge the parent $200 for a clean test, which was sent by Griffin to Omega Laboratories in Ohio and would come back as being negative.

The clean test would then be submitted to the court as evidence that the individual was clean, according to Slate.

Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer previously emphasized that the Ohio laboratory is in no way implicated in the alleged illegal testing.

Hassett, who had overseen Child Protection Services and Adult and Aging Services, will temporarily handle only Adult and Aging Services out of a different office.

She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Pagan said that no employees have been placed under administrative leave.