The Orange County Board of Supervisors added to the CalOptima drama this week, directing lawyers to ask the county grand jury and state’s political watchdog commission to investigate anonymous conflict-of-interest charges leveled against CalOptima Chairman Ed Kacic.

Kacic said he welcomed “a complete and thorough investigation” and hoped the grand jury or another agency would also delve into who was behind writing and distributing the anonymous letter and why.

The letter, which circulated earlier this month, accused Kacic of trying to steer a potential federal grant to his foundation. The letter was strongly refuted by Kacic, his board of directors and the executive director of a group of county health organizations that actually would receive the grant.

The letter also made unsubstantiated claims that CalOptima board member Mary Anne Foo accepts money from CalOptima, which Foo and CalOptima Chief Executive Officer Richard Chambers deny.

CalOptima provides Medicare and Medi-Cal programs for about 400,000 poor children, their parents, pregnant women, senior citizens and the disabled. Low-income men generally don’t qualify for the program’s services. The county doesn’t contribute funds to the program.

The vote to make the referrals to the grand jury and Fair Political Practices Commission broke along the same lines as several other recent votes regarding CalOptima — Supervisors Janet Nguyen, Bill Campbell and Pat Bates in favor and Supervisors Shawn Nelson and John Moorlach against.

Nelson warned the majority that they were setting a precedent where, from now on, anyone who wanted to damage someone could “just lob in an anonymous letter.”

The board majority said they just wanted assurances from the grand jury and the FPPC that there were no conflicts.

But following the meeting, Nelson said the supervisors were sending a message that ” ‘I don’t want to besmirch anybody’s reputation. By the way, would you please send this guy’s name to the grand jury for investigation?’ It’s just a different way of besmirching someone’s name.”

Nelson went on to say that if the grand jury did agree to look into the supervisor’s request, they could dig deeper and investigate who sent the anonymous letter and whether the sender benefited financially or politically from the results.

“That person could very well find out they’re the butt of their own joke, I suppose,” said Nelson. “Boomerangs do tend to return to the person who threw them.”

Campbell, who along with Bates voted to support a grand jury investigation, said “it’s pretty clear to me” Kacic didn’t do what was alleged in the anonymous letter. Even so, he said he supported the grand jury and FPPC inquiries “so that neither he nor we end up being embarrassed here.”

Bates said the inquiries were “I think, the best thing that can happen” for Kacic to have his name cleared. She said people are “saying this is bunk. Let’s get an official bunking letter.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the current grand jury, whose term ends in June, would agree to the board’s request or have time to handle the issue.

The board also unanimously approved a proposal by Nguyen to remove Adriana A. Moreno, program director of the Children’s Health Initiative of Orange County, from the CalOptima board. Meanwhile, three other CalOptima board members, including Foo, were approved to complete the rest of their terms.

But changes made by Nguyen could mean some board members wouldn’t be eligible for a second four-year term once their current terms are up.

Moreno’s removal and the continuing efforts aimed at Kacic were seen by insiders as the latest step in a campaign by Nguyen, with help from Campbell and Bates, to realign the CalOptima board and give more control to Nguyen and the medical industry.

The high demand for experienced executives in the health care industry and Nguyen’s criticisms have combined to cause six top CalOptima executives, including Chambers, the CEO, to resign in recent months.

A $250-per-person fundraiser for Nguyen, hosted by local hospitals, was scheduled for Tuesday night.

Nguyen said Moreno should be removed as a CalOptima board member because CalOptima gives her charity free office space and technical advice worth about $80,000 a year. CalOptima also paid to move the charity into the new CalOptima building in Orange, said Nguyen.

The anonymous letter alleged that the Irvine Health Foundation, which Kacic heads, stood to financially benefit from a federal grant it was seeking on behalf of Managed System of Care, a group of health organizations that includes CalOptima, the county Health Care Agency, hospitals, clinics and other healthcare providers.

But Kacic, his board of directors and the director of Managed System of Care said the Irvine Health Foundation simply acted on behalf of  Managed System because it hasn’t yet formed its own nonprofit. Before the grant application was submitted, Kacic told everyone involved that his foundation wouldn’t accept any money, he and others said.

“We are incensed that the authors of this vicious smear did not have the decency to check their facts with IHF [Irvine Health Foundation] before acting,” stated a Feb. 27 letter from the foundation’s directors to the Board of Supervisors.

“We are angry and surprised that they have maliciously impugned our President and our organization when we were simply facilitating an opportunity for Orange County to receive funding for much-needed programs to benefit our community’s poor and sick.”

The Irvine Health Foundation board also criticized the Hospital Association of Southern California for using the anonymous letter in a trade association blog post and newsletter.

“We are also surprised and disappointed that senior executives of the Hospital Association of Southern California have continued to spread this damaging misinformation despite having received the facts disproving the allegation,” stated the Irvine Health Foundation letter to the Board of Supervisors.

The Irvine Health Foundation was formed in the 1980s and is one of the few Orange County foundations that provide grants to health-related organizations. According to the letter, it has awarded about $25 million in grants to county groups.

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