Grand Jury Deliberates Potential Federal Charges in Cover Oregon Debacle

The grand jury meets in secret so there’s little information about the scope of their work or whether criminal charges will come. The governor’s office not only met the deadline to comply with the information request, he promised full cooperation.

A federal grand jury was set to convene in Portland on Tuesday to consider evidence brought forward by U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall into the debacle known as Cover Oregon and determine whether any federal laws had been violated.

The court had subpoenaed emails and documents from several top state officials involved with developing the state’s beleaguered health insurance exchange, most of whom have now lost their government jobs, including former Oregon Health Authority Director Bruce Goldberg and the Oregon Health Authority Chief Information Officer Carolyn Lawson.

Gov. John Kitzhaber’s chief of staff, Mike Bonetto, was also required to turn over information, which Kitzhaber’s spokeswoman, Nkenge Harmon-Johnson, said was done last month, well in advance of the deadline.

Kitzhaber’s chief counsel, Liani Reeves, wrote in a letter to Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Uram that the governor would provide copies of the independent First Data audit, along with any requested documents, which included external and internal communications, such as emails.

Kitzhaber responded to the audit by asking for the resignation of Goldberg and top Cover Oregon officials.

“The governor is committed to a thorough review of Cover Oregon to ensure the appropriate accountability and oversight for the public investment made in the Cover Oregon website,” Reeves wrote. “He has instructed me to fully comply with your document request and to produce the materials in a timely fashion.”

Reeves also offered to make any and all executive department staff available on request.

The U.S. Attorney’s spokeswoman, Gerri Badden, refused to provide any kind of information about the grand jury proceeding or whether it met, sarcastically suggesting that this reporter do a Google search to learn more about grand juries.

Grand juries meet in secret and deliberate the evidence brought forward by prosecutors such as the U.S. attorney and then determine whether to bring charges for federal crimes.

Kitzhaber’s principle challenger in the November election, Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, didn’t miss the chance to use the grand jury hearing to criticize the sitting governor.

“The project was mismanaged by Cover Oregon and the Oregon Health Authority under the operative of the governor,” Richardson said. “This process is going as it should so we can get to the bottom of what happened to the $250 million of taxpayer money spent on the failed website.”

Former Rep. Patrick Sheehan, R-Clackamas, also chimed in, recalling how he’d told the FBI that a key insider had told him that Cover Oregon had deliberately misled federal officials with a phony presentation of what the site was ready to do. Sheehan only knew of the phony presentation secondhand, and would not reveal his source except to the FBI. “I’m very curious to see how it goes,” Sheehan said.

The scope of the grand jury investigation won’t just include actions by state officials but Oracle, the software giant that was paid to build the site but delivered gigabytes of bad code instead.

At a legislative hearing late last month, Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, raised the specter that Oracle may not just be liable for civil penalties but criminal charges.

“I read the First Data report very carefully,” Greenlick said. “It struck me that Oracle’s performance met the definition for criminal fraud.”

“No one at Oracle can say with a straight face that you didn’t want us to provide a functioning website,” said Kitzhaber at the same hearing.

Chris can be reached at [email protected].
Editor's Note: The grand jury was set to convene on Tuesday but it cannot be confirmed whether they actually met.
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