The state employee who blew the whistle on improper searches into the background of the man known as "Joe The Plumber" said Friday that she never expected to be thrown into the middle of such controversy.
According to a report issued Thursday by Ohio Inspector General Thomas Charles, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services agency director Helen Jones-Kelley improperly used state computers to find personal information regarding Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, a Toledo-area man known as Joe the Plumber.
Wurzelbacher became a household name in the final weeks of the presidential campaign after asking Barack Obama about his tax plan at a campaign stop near Toledo.
The inspector general's report also concluded that Jones-Kelley improperly used state e-mail to engage in political activity.
Vanessa Niekamp, a 15-year ODJFS employee, was recognized by the Inspector General for coming forward with information about the searches.
During her career, Niekamp has been involved in training other state employees about what's off limits regarding state databases. In an interview Friday, Niekamp said she never thought she'd find herself in the middle of such a situation.
"I've never experienced anything like this before," Niekamp said. "I don't expect I ever will again."
According to the Inspector General's report, Niekamp's boss, ODJFS deputy director Doug Thompson, forced her to send an e-mail covering up the reason behind the searches into Wurzelbacher.
The e-mail, which was sent to chief privacy officer Rick Copley, explained that the queries into Wurzelbacher were made for child support purposes, Fortney reported.
"It was a red flag to me as to why there would be a need for an explanation," Niekamp said. "In other words, why not just have that person send out the email on their own behalf and not have you do it? Well, that would've been an option."
Niekamp said she was hopeful that there would not be backlash at the ODJFS office, and her attorney said he was prepared for legal action if necessary.
"It's part of every state employees job to report anything that they may have concern over, or potentially think might be unethical," Niekamp said. "You have family members you have neighbors and you're serving them, too. If it were one of them would you want them to know."
Wurzelbacher said he planned to sue the state of Ohio for the illegal background checks, Fortney reported.
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland on Thursday placed Jones-Kelley on a one-month unpaid suspension.
Thompson has not faced disciplinary action.
The Inspector General's findings have been forwarded to the Franklin County prosecutor's office for further review.
Watch 10TV News and refresh 10TV.com for additional information.
November 20, 2008: 'Joe The Plumber' Records Improperly Searched