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Auditor general faces review

Concerned about charges of anti-Semitism and employment discrimination, a legislative committee Monday ordered a management review of Auditor General Charles Lester's office.

The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee voted 7-0 to conduct the review after a staff report raised questions about how the department responded to the allegations in its Medicaid fraud control unit in Miami.

Committee members said they were disturbed how complaints from some workers about remarks, such as "Christ killer" and other vulgarities, were handled by Lester's office.

"For me, it's quite disturbing to see some of these things taken in what seems to be a very light fashion," Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said during a hearing on the accusations. "It was just part of a good day of business."

The scrutiny is unusual for Lester, who's noted for his low-key approach to investigating and evaluating state agencies and government programs.

Arthur Teitelbaum, southern area director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, asked the committee in December to investigate allegations by two former agents, Martin Book and Laurence Bialick, who claimed they were fired last year because they are Jewish.

Lester said they were fired for not doing their jobs.

An internal inquiry released last October by Sam McCall, executive deputy auditor general, found that vulgar language was used routinely in the office by half of investigators and their supervisor, Abraham Azzam, since 1991.

Teitelbaum said the report was flawed and ignored many instances of anti-Semitic behavior.

Frank Shooster, a lawyer representing four former workers who filed suit last Friday in U.S. District Court in Miami, called the internal report a "cover up."

Shooster showed committee members a cartoon showing cattle walking into a slaughterhouse with one cow saying, "Hey You! . . . End of the line!" The first names of Book and Gordon, both of whom are Jewish, was scrawled on the cows.