Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Probe turns to workers' compensation claim

by Jason Moore
Monday, September 22, 2008

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The investigation into Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of Walt Monegan is looking into whether Palin influenced a workers' compensation claim from her former brother in-law.

Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten had his benefits denied three months after an injury forced him out of work. It became part of the probe after the adjuster who handled Wooten's case tipped off the Legislature's investigator.

Back in January of 2007, at a car accident scene, Wooten slipped and injured his back. He applied for and received workers' compensation.

But in April, the state ended the benefits.

"(They) said that he was not entitled to any further benefits at that time, because their doctor said he could go back to unrestricted work," said Wooten's attorney, Chancy Croft. "His doctor was still telling him, 'No, you can't.'"

The form announcing the denial of benefits was signed by Johanna Grasso of Harbor Adjustment Service, which handles the state workers' comp claims.

Grasso is also the person who testified to the Legislature's investigator, Stephen Branchflower, that she was told by the owner of the company that the governor or governor's office wanted Wooten's claim denied.

The governor's spokesman, Bill McAllister, said Wooten's workers' compensation file is confidential, but if it wasn't they could show how Grasso is not telling the truth.

"We can show you the whole chronology including documents with the name of this employee, former employee, of the firm who apparently gave some sort of a statement to Mr. Branchflower indicating that her recollection of events is false," McAllister said.

"The person is a governor, not the queen," Croft said. "She can't go around dispensing out workers' compensation."

Croft said he knows of no interference by the governor's office in Wooten's case.

"This was a pretty normal workers' compensation case," he said.

Wooten returned to light duty shortly after his benefits were denied, and full duty in December of last year.

Meanwhile, the state Personnel Board has also hired an investigator to look into the issue, after Palin filed a complaint against herself and said that was the proper body to do the investigation.

The board hired Anchorage attorney Tim Petumenos, and while fighting the Legislature's inquiry, the McCain-Palin campaign says the governor will cooperate only with the Personnel Board investigation.

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