CNN.com - Nurse claims she was fired for talking with FBI - November 30, 2001
FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (CNN) -- A nurse who says a hospital fired her after she spoke with the FBI about people allegedly involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks has filed suit against the facility.
Eileen Luongo is seeking back pay, compensatory damages, attorneys fees and a return to her job in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Broward County Circuit Court against Fort Lauderdale Hospital. She claims her rights were violated under Florida's whistleblower act.
"I'm angry that a person who would try to help out in a situation like that could lose their job," she said.
The hospital, which was under investigation by the FBI for Medicare and Medicaid fraud, objected to her talking to the FBI agents in the facility, she said.
Luongo, an admissions nurse at the hospital, said she recognized four of the suspected September 11 hijackers when their photos were published in a local newspaper in October. Among those she recognized, she said, were Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al Shehi, suspected to be the pilots of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.
She said she called the FBI, and agents agreed to meet her at the hospital.
Hospital officials objected to the FBI being inside the facility and asked the two investigators to leave, Luongo said. She finished talking with them outside.
When she returned to work her supervisor, Susan DelValle, told her, "Turn in your badge and your keys. You're fired," Luongo alleges.
"And I said, 'Am I fired because I talked to the FBI?' and she said, 'Yes,' " Luongo said, adding that she was later told that it was inappropriate to bring the agents into the hospital.
Luongo said the terrorist suspects had visited SeaWinds Healthcare services, a chemical dependency program in Miami Shores, where she had worked over the summer, and which has since shut down. They walked into the clinic one day to use a computer, she said, and she helped them compose a letter.
She said Atta appeared to be the leader. Once the letter was finished he held it up and smiled, and they all left.
The clinic's owner, Mohammed Ibrahim, an Egyptian, was deported by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in June.
FBI spokesman Judy Orihuela in Miami said Luongo's information provided "credible leads we needed to follow up on."
After she was fired, Luongo said, she asked the FBI to intervene.
FBI agents assured the hospital's administrator that Luongo was cooperating in the September 11 investigation and not in the FBI's fraud investigation of the facility, but to no avail, the FBI said.
Robert Casey, assistant special agent in charge of the Miami FBI Field Division, told CNN that he would hope that employers would understand the need for cooperation in such a mammoth terror investigation.
He said the information Luongo provided is still being followed up on, and was "critical to our investigation."
Luongo said she would do it all over again.
"I didn't know if there was more danger ... who those people were linked with down here. I thought anything could happen any day. It could be my life, my grandchildren's life ... anyone's," she said. "I thought it was urgent. I thought it was life-threatening."