Two States Investigate Oregon Prison Counselor Who Admits Napping on Second Job

By Les Zaitz, The Oregonian, Friday, February 17, 2012

An inmate patient at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla reads in a room at the Psychiatric Ward last October. Prison counselor Ming Zhu remains on duty at his two full-time jobs, one at the Walla Walla prison, while both Oregon and Washington investigate his conduct holding two full-time jobs.

Joe Tierney/The Associated Press
An inmate patient at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla reads in a room at the Psychiatric Ward last October. Prison counselor Ming Zhu remains on duty at his two full-time jobs, one at the Walla Walla prison, while both Oregon and Washington investigate his conduct holding two full-time jobs.

Ming Zhu, a prison counselor, works full-time jobs at two prisons in two states.

Zhu gets off duty at 6:30 a.m. from his graveyard job at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, drives an hour to Oregon and clocks in for a full shift at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton. Then he drives home to Kennewick, Wash., another hour-long drive, for four hours before hitting the road for an hour-drive back to Walla Walla.

It’s a pace he’s apparently kept up for more than five years — and now his industriousness has triggered internal investigations by both Oregon and Washington prison agencies.

That’s because whistleblowers told Washington state auditors that Zhu was sleeping as much as four hours during his shift in Walla Walla. Auditors also found Zhu was using Washington’s prison computers for Oregon prison work.

Zhu admitted to auditors that he slept on the job, but not for half a shift. The record of his two interviews with auditors provided no clue why Zhu carries on such a taxing work life. He is married and has children, according to records released Friday to The Oregonian.

Holding two jobs is allowed under agency policies in both states.

He started at Washington State Penitentiary in November 2005. Auditors found he hadn’t sought formal permission to take a second job, but Zhu said his supervisor knew.

Zhu took on a second job at the Pendleton prison in August 2006. Prison officials said he did get the required approval to hold two jobs, though they couldn’t immediately explain the basis for the approval.

He’s paid $46,188 by Washington and $54,060 by Oregon.

Pendleton prison officials passed along an interview request to Zhu, but he didn’t respond.

In a Feb. 7 report, the Washington State Auditor’s Office said two witnesses at the Washington prison “stated that they had seen the subject sleeping as much as four hours in a shift,” the audit said.

Zhu denied that but said he naps during his 30-minute work break.

“Ming stated that he sometimes combines his afternoon break to take a 45-minute nap,” according to the auditor’s report on one interview. “Ming admitted that his naps may extend beyond 45 minutes ‘once in awhile.’”

Auditors concluded Zhu had been using the Washington prison computer improperly. They found worksheets for eight students at the school district where his wife works. They also found material related to his Oregon prison job.

Zhu admitted that while on duty at the Washington prison he did work for his wife’s job and his Oregon job and “mentioned that his employers at either facility do not know that he works on things for the other jobs,” according to audit records.

As prison agencies ground ahead with their personnel investigations Friday, Zhu remained on the jobs.

Washington officials notified the Oregon Department of Corrections of its findings, and also passed them on to the Oregon Audits Division. Director Gary Blackmer said the state has provided a list of all Oregon employees to Washington state to see if there are other double-shifting workers. Blackmer said for now, he isn’t planning his own audit.

“We’re all shaking our heads on how he could do that,” Blackmer said. “I just can’t imagine. I work long days, but I couldn’t do two jobs.”


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