Breasts, Viagra and hotel sex

Harasser keeps job

An investigator with the inspector general's office for the state Department of Human Services remains on the job despite findings that he has sexually harassed employees of agencies that hold DHS contracts.

According to a report released last month by the state Executive Ethics Commission, Manuel "Manny" Zepeda told three women employed by Marcfirst, a Normal nonprofit that helps the developmentally disabled, that he had an ex-girlfriend who once obtained Viagra for him. Then he told the women that his wife liked to have sex in hotels. All the time, according to the report prepared by the Office of the Executive Inspector General, Zepeda was staring at a whiteboard in the agency office, and when someone said, "That's not on our board," Zepeda said that he should probably leave before he got another sexual harassment complaint against him. The conduct occurred in July 2018.

Reactions from employees, according to the report, ranged from alarm to someone who said, "This is just typical Manny" and, "You have to play along." One of the employees who witnessed Zepeda's behavior had met him that day. Zepeda was in Marcfirst offices to conduct an investigation, the nature of which wasn't disclosed in the report released by the ethics commission. As an investigator, Zepeda is charged with investigating allegations of abuse, financial exploitation and neglect involving people who receive services from agencies licensed, funded, operated or certified by DHS.

One Marcfirst employee told the inspector general that Zepeda was "always inappropriate and creepy," but she had decided to "let it go." While she said that she was offended and made uncomfortable by Zepeda's comments, she said she didn't feel that she could speak up because her agency might suffer negative consequences from his investigations.

Another employee had similar concerns.

"I've always been told by coworkers to go along with what Manny says because it could affect the outcome of the case he is inquiring about," the employee wrote in a statement.

Zepeda told investigators that he was on pain medication. He also volunteered that when a Marcfirst employee said that she wished that she could work just one day a week, he'd replied "maybe if you got pregnant and popped out a kid and claim postpartum depression, maybe they would let you work out of home, too." He also told investigators that he'd told women at Marcfirst to be careful because his wife would "cut a bitch."

Less than two weeks after Marcfirst alerted DHS, employees of EPIC, another agency vendor, reported that Zepeda, during an interview with two employees, had placed his hand in the air as if to shield his eyes and gestured at one of the employees to adjust her shirt. The employee said it was clear he was referring to her cleavage and that he told her, "Yeah, you can't just sit there and squeeze them together and expect me not to look at them." The other employee backed her colleague's account and also said that he'd used the word "fuck" three times while interviewing them. Both women said that he'd told them that he has gotten in trouble for sexual harassment in the past. The October report doesn't make clear what services EPIC provides or where it is located.

Zepeda wasn't immediately disciplined after the first incident. Instead, William Diggins, DHS interim deputy inspector general, told executive inspector general investigators that he removed Zepeda from the Marcfirst probe and referred the matter to the executive inspector general and the DHS Bureau of Civil Affairs. Diggins told the executive inspector general that he believed allegations against Marcfirst would be substantiated and that he would have disciplined Zepeda had there not been an active investigation into the nonprofit agency.

After the second incident, Diggins told the executive inspector general that he removed Zepeda from field investigations and referred the matter to the executive inspector general's office. Diggins also told investigators that Zepeda had a "big mouth" and that he had been informally counseled about language he used at work.

In 2014, the DHS inspector general's office investigated allegations of inappropriate conduct by Zepeda at an agency with a DHS contract that he was investigating, according to the October report. Allegations included an accusation that he had "looked an employee up and down while shaking her hand, asked why they had never met before and commented that he would have remembered her if they had previously met," the executive inspector general reported. The DHS inspector general deemed the 2014 allegations unsubstantiated, according to the executive inspector general, but Zepeda received a written reprimand for other behavior at the unnamed vendor agency, according to the October report, which did not specify just what he did to merit a reprimand.

Zepeda has worked for DHS since 1996. Since complaints were lodged last year, he has gotten a raise and now makes $7,800 a month, $1,000 more than he made in 2018. In a Sept. 18 letter to the executive inspector general, a DHS official acting on behalf of DHS Secretary Grace B. Hou wrote that Zepeda has been punished with a 30-day suspension.

"The department...believes this discipline will dissuade Mr. Zepeda from repeating such action," wrote the official, whose signature was redacted from documents released by the Executive Ethics Commission. "(A) copy of the final report (by the executive inspector general) was placed in his personnel file. As such, DHS now considers this matter closed."

Contact Bruce Rushton at

brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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