See more of the story

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson on Monday criticized the reopening of a state legislative auditor's investigation of her office, saying the inquiry was being pushed by former office employees who were disgruntled and motivated by "sour grapes."

Swanson was critical of Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, a lawyer in the attorney general's office from 1996 to 2001 and who met with Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles to urge him to again examine the management of a Medicaid fraud unit, which operates within the office. Although Nobles had initially said he did not find anything in the unit that merited further scrutiny, he agreed two weeks ago to take another look. Nobles said Monday that he would review whether documents on which he based his initial assessment might have been misleading.

Swanson's statements Monday were the latest volley in a series of controversies surrounding the office. Among them have been reports of an exodus of lawyers, charges that former Attorney General Mike Hatch, Swanson's predecessor, still exerts a large influence over the office and allegations that Swanson used heavy-handed tactics to thwart an attempt last year to unionize office employees.

Even Monday, Swanson's office was the subject of a debate in the state Senate, where DFLers defeated proposals to limit her political appointees and raise issues about Swanson's office remodeling, including the installation of $15,000 security doors.

"There is something going on in that office that is not right," said Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, who authored the failed proposals.

Blunt disagreements

In her written statement Monday, the attorney general singled out Paul Civello, another former office employee who at one time headed the Medicaid fraud unit. In an affidavit provided to Nobles last year, Civello pointedly accused the attorney general's office -- under both Swanson and Hatch -- of mismanaging the unit. He said Swanson misused federal money by having employees from the unit work on legal cases that had little or nothing to do with Medicaid fraud and that were instead focused on generating favorable publicity for the office.

In a letter to Nobles, Swanson said Civello "lacks candor," "is not telling your office the truth" and "is disingenuous about his motives."

Civello dismissed Swanson's allegations. "Everything in my affidavit is true. I stand by it," he said Monday.

Swanson was equally blunt. "Most of his accusations about my administration related to his fixation on the office during the two years since he left," Swanson wrote of Civello. She also called on Civello, now a private attorney, to release an oral deposition that he provided earlier to Nobles, which she said "undermines" claims Civello made in his written affidavit. Swanson said she demoted Civello from his position after taking office in early 2007 and "had his salary cut dramatically."

Swanson also took aim at Civello's written affidavit, saying that it "demonstrates that he either lied to the federal government when he certified that the Medicaid Fraud Unit was employed on Medicaid activity, or he lied to the legislative auditor when he now says he doesn't believe the work in the unit he managed ... related to Medicaid fraud."

Regarding Simon, Swanson told Nobles that "I am not aware of another time in history where an individual legislator has pushed your office so hard to overturn prior audit findings ... in order to settle a personal vendetta."

Simon, who has been critical of the attorney general's office, said Monday he had little comment on Swanson's statements because of " an ongoing investigation into serious allegations."

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673