NC lawmakers want Cardinal severance back – from executives who got $3.8 million

NC lawmakers want Cardinal severance back – from executives who got $3.8 million

CHARLOTTE, NC (Jim Morrill/The Charlotte Observer) - North Carolina lawmakers Tuesday pushed state officials to recover millions in what one called the "gilded golden parachutes" to former Cardinal Innovations executives – not from Cardinal but from the people themselves.

State health officials told the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services that they're working with Cardinal to invest the amount of the payouts into client services.

Last month Cardinal fired CEO Richard Topping and gave him a $1.7 million severance. It gave three other executives packages totaling $2.1 million.

"I'm absolutely appalled by the arrogance, avarice and unfettered greed of those people," Republican Sen. Tamara Barringer of Wake County told the committee.

GOP Rep. Nelson Dollar of Wake County said the state should make "every effort" to recover the "golden, gilded parachutes just unheard of with taxpayer money."

Topping declined to comment.

PREVIOUS: DHHS taking over mental health agency for misuse of federal, state funds

Cardinal's board authorized the payments last month, prompting the state Department of Health and Human Services to fire the board and take over the the state's largest public managed care organization. The Charlotte-based Cardinal manages mental and behavioral heath services to clients in Mecklenburg and 19 other counties.

Also Tuesday, attorneys representing DHHS and the former Cardinal officials met in a Charlotte courtroom, where a judge extended a temporary restraining order until Jan. 18. The order prohibits the former Cardinal executives or board members from interfering with the DHHS takeover or gaining access to Cardinal coffers.

Rob Wilder, the former board's attorney, declined to comment on the hearing. Deputy Attorney General Michael Wood, represents DHHS, had previously told a judge that Topping and two former board members shared emails suggesting they had a plan to keep agency money from the state.

In Raleigh, Dave Richard, deputy secretary for Medical Assistance, told the oversight panel that officials are working with Cardinal's interim leaders to invest the amount of payouts in services. The money would come from administrative funds.

Sen. Dan Bishop, a Charlotte Republican, said that would be taking the money "from one government pocket to another." He urged DHHS officials to go after the executives themselves.

"I believe that if there is any way to pursue a legally viable claim, DHHS should do that without delay," Bishop said later. "The recourse is (a) regional agency will have to return an equivalent amount of money … to DHHS, which is shuffling government money from one government pocket to another.

"And I would be embarrassed to even give that as a remedy for the problem."