Audit faults former head of state sex offender center

TACOMA — The former head of the state’s Special Commitment Center for sex offenders violated the “revolving door law” by working under a contract he helped negotiate, state auditors say.

Psychologist Henry Richards led the center on McNeil Island between 2004 and 2009 and was involved in renewing contracts with the University of Washington for consultation, research and training. After leaving the center, Richards went to work as a UW subcontractor and was paid more than $21,000 in 2009 and 2010.

State law forbids former state employees from working under a contract they negotiated within a year of leaving the state payroll.

Richards denies any violation.

“I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong, deceitful, deceptive or improper. That’s my heartfelt belief,” Richards told The News Tribune on Monday.

Auditors reporting to former State Auditor Brian Sonntag and his successor, Troy Kelley, investigated contracts in 2010 and earlier and wrote, “We found reasonable cause to believe an improper governmental action occurred.”

The report is proof that “no good deed goes unpunished,” Richards said, because he worked on a project at the state’s request at less than what he could have been paid for doing other work.

Richards’ work in 2009-2010 looked into whether the state’s system for predicting whether sex offenders will commit more crimes would work on a group of offenders who hadn’t been sent to the commitment center.

Before doing the work, Richards checked with the state ethics board but didn’t disclose the full extent of his role negotiating the contract, auditors said.

Auditors forwarded their conclusions to the Executive Ethics Board.

The Department of Social and Health Services said it would review the audit to minimize similar occurrences in the future. The DSHS runs the commitment center, which confines hundreds of sexually violent offenders who have finished prison sentences but are deemed too dangerous to go free.

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