Erica Stick is third top Texas health official to resign amid scandal

The story so far

Following an American-Statesman investigation into a lucrative, no-bid state contract with Austin tech company 21CT, three top state health officials have resigned, a pending $90 million deal with the company was canceled and state and federal criminal probes were launched.

Erica Stick, chief of staff of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, resigned Thursday, the third top official at the sprawling agency to step down as state and federal investigators look into a no-bid, Medicaid anti-fraud contract canceled last month.

Stick is the wife of Jack Stick, the former chief counsel at the agency who resigned a month ago, after the American-Statesman revealed he skirted state procurement laws to broker multimillion-dollar deals with Austin tech firm 21CT.

Also Thursday, two legislators called for the resignation of Kyle Janek, chief of the agency.

“I ask you do what is in the best interest of the state of Texas and resign immediately,” state Sen. John Whitmire, the longest-serving Texas senator, said in a letter.

“Enough is enough,” Whitmire, D-Houston, told the Statesman. “I think he’s lost credibility to run this agency.”

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, also a Houston Democrat, echoed Whitmire’s concerns in a statement.

“I do not know if any criminal or ethical offense has occurred, but at this moment the allegations present challenges for providing Texans with the services they require,” Coleman said.

Janek’s spokeswoman didn’t respond to questions Thursday. But hours after Whitmire’s letter was sent, Erica Stick, Janek’s chief of staff, resigned.

Erica Stick, who worked at the commission for 10 years and was earning more than $160,000 a year, had been placed on paid administrative leave last month.

Erica Stick was never accused by the agency of any wrongdoing. Agency officials said they put her on leave to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest while the agency was under investigation.

“The last several months have presented challenges for this agency and while I had hoped that a speedy resolution to the various reviews would soon allow me to return to the job I love, it is increasingly clear that a resolution will not come any time soon,” she wrote in her resignation letter.

Her last day will be Feb. 6.

Janek said last month that Jack Stick and the commission’s Office of Inspector General misled him before Janek requested money from state lawmakers and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

But Whitmire said Janek had contacted legislators to promote the 21CT deal as the agency was seeking a $90 million extension to a $20 million contract with 21CT to identify Medicaid fraud. Janek canceled the deal Dec. 12, the same day Jack Stick resigned.

On Thursday, the Statesman reported that Janek had sought a meeting with House Speaker Joe Straus late last year to discuss 21CT. Straus is on a key legislative panel that was poised to approve the $90 million contract extension with 21CT. It’s not clear if Janek was pushing for approval of the contract extension after the Statesman first began raising questions about the deal in mid-November.

“Your repeated allegations of being misled are not supported by recent disclosures,” Whitmire said of Janek.

Also placed on administrative leave last month were Frianita Wilson, the wife of former Inspector General Doug Wilson, who also resigned last month, and Cody Cazares, Jack Stick’s former chief of staff.

Frianita Wilson was involved in approving a $452,000 deal with 21CT. That also has been canceled.

The agency hasn’t responded to several requests this week for updates on the status of those employees.

Janek’s office also has halted responses to dozens of open records requests filed by the Statesman and other news organizations under the Texas Public Information Act. The commission has broadly refused to release public records, citing the several inquiries now focused on the agency.

Janek, a former Houston-area Republican state representative and state senator, was appointed to his post by Gov. Rick Perry in September 2012.

On Wednesday, the Statesman confirmed the FBI is investigating the state’s dealings with 21CT.

Also Wednesday, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott announced he will deploy an independent “strike force” to review management, contracting and operations at the health agency.

Last month, inquiries were launched by the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County district attorney’s office, as well as the State Auditor’s Office.

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