Where were you on Valentine’s Day in 2012? Colleen Fleming, now attendance secretary at Oyster River High School (ORHS), was carrying out an arrest warrant in Brunswick, Maine for Jessica Bartlett and Mark Judd, who were indicted on 3 counts of both Social Security fraud and aggravated identity theft.
As I would soon find out when I sat down for an interview with ORHS’ new administrative assistant, Fleming worked for 24 years with the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General (DHHS), in Maine. There, Fleming was responsible for investigating fraud and abuse involving the programs provided by the US DHHS, like Medicaid, and arresting the individuals who were committing these crimes. During her time there, Fleming had seen a little of everything. However, after retiring in June of 2022, she decided she wanted to go back to work, which led her here: the front office of ORHS.
When I heard that ORHS had hired a special agent to work in the front office, I was beyond intrigued. Having only met Fleming once, I wanted to know more. So, one morning, I stepped into her office and asked if we could meet sometime for an interview. With a small smirk, she said yes, but not before handing me a sticky note with the words ‘Colleen Fleming, Special Agent, Maine’ jotted in blue ink. The first result for that query in Google is a case report titled ‘United States v. Bartlett,’ where Fleming was one of two agents who had arrested Bartlett at her home in Brunswick.
Her life working in the government didn’t start out there, though. She actually started her government work with the Secret Service, but not as an agent. Fleming began her government work at age 17 through a program offered by the United States Department of State. During her office practice class in high school, she answered a call from the secret service. The agent on the other end informed her of a paid position working under George H.W. Bush at their residence on Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, Maine, right up the street from her hometown of Wells.
In Kennebunkport, Fleming was the secretary for the Secret Service’s Presidential Protection Detail for George H.W. Bush. She would type reports, deliver teletypes (a type of telegraph), and do other administrative work for the agents who worked for the Detail. When I asked her if she knew what she was getting herself into, she laughed and replied, “absolutely not.”
For Fleming, the job was the gateway into her future career as an agent for the DHHS, since she hadn’t considered a job with the government before taking the position. “It was a job that completely changed my life,” she told me. “It opened so many doors. Once, George [H.W.] Bush came up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders and said, ‘do you have any friends that could help Barbara make beds?’ and, at the time, I was thinking about all of my 17-year-old friends, and I said, ‘no one I can think of.’”
Fleming told me how fortunate she was in hindsight. “I got to go to a couple of white house Christmas dinners and stuff… got to talk to the president on the phone a couple of times. I didn’t understand because, of course, I was 17, how significant that would be because everybody doesn’t get to do that.”
But, once Bill Clinton won the next presidential election, Fleming had to leave the position in Kennebunkport when it was moved to Texas. However, Secret Service agents that had worked with her in Kennebunkport put in a good word for her with the US Department of Education in Boston. When a position became available at their office, they called Fleming and asked her if she wanted to be interviewed. She said yes.
After only a year or so in that position, she was offered a position with the DHHS. Normally, agent positions like the one she was offered can have up to 1,500 applicants, but her previous work with the Secret Service and the US Department of Education granted her the opportunity to bypass that applicant pool and begin her career with the DHHS. From then on, she was Special Agent Fleming.
Of the many cases that Fleming worked on during her time with the DHHS, some stood out for her more than others. One of the funnier cases she mentioned during our interview was against Ahmed Guled and his caregiver Dahabo Osman. Guled and Osman were a couple, and Osman was supposed to be the caregiver, as Guled reportedly needed help with simple tasks and functioning day-to-day. Fleming “suspected that this was malarky,” and decided to set up a surveillance van near their residence before an appointment with nurses and assessors from the DHHS that were there to check in with Guled.
Fleming sat there for two hours before Guled pulled into the driveway with his ‘caregiver,’ Osman, in the passenger seat. About a half hour after they’d gone into the house, Fleming told me, “[Osman] walks out, opens the trunk, gets two canes out, and walks [back] into the house.” During the assessors’ visit, Guled reportedly “‘couldn’t get up, couldn’t do anything.’ But after [the assessors] left, I followed him to the Lewiston House of Pizza,” she said, laughing. “It was like pure gold.”
Although that case was one of the funniest, Fleming also said it was also one of the more stressful for her. “The search warrant in that case was 127 pages, and I was responsible for executing 20 simultaneous search warrants. So, I had a team… of 130 agents from 10 different agencies.” Logistical nightmares like that, along with having to testify and undergo cross-examination on the witness stand at trial, were near the top of Fleming’s list of stressful experiences with the DHHS.
However, the most exciting and stressful of experiences for Fleming often happened when she was out making arrests. The Mark Judd and Jessica Bartlett case was a prominent example of a stressful case for Fleming. She told me that during the arrest of Bartlett, “when we finally got the door open, [an officer] had a taser pointed [at Bartlett] and [she] was using her baby as a shield.”
Another one of the most exciting things that could happen in a case was finding evidence. In one of her cases, Agnus Smith and Dwayne Schwartz were found falsifying requests for transportation reimbursement. Smith was supposedly driving Schwartz to and from medical appointments, but Fleming could not find record of the doctors listed on the reports. How did Fleming finally catch Smith and Agnus? “One night, I was watching Grey’s Anatomy and every doctor that they had written on the reports was on Grey’s Anatomy. I could not find them anywhere, so I was like, ‘yes!’” In June of this year, after 24 years, Fleming retired from her position with the DHHS.
But, not long after, Fleming wanted to go back to work. “When I left my job… we had been remote for almost two years, so I was working at home with almost no interaction… At that point, both of my kids were living off at college, and I have to say, I think I just really missed the energy that kids bring; I find them to be very funny, and comical, and just full of possibilities.”
When the secretarial position at ORHS opened following Lisa Richardson’s retirement at the end of last school year, the school was looking for someone who was detail-oriented, organized, wanted to work with teenagers, and, above all, could multitask. For Rebecca Noe, Principal at ORHS, Fleming had those abilities, along with 24 years of experience with the DHHS to prove it. “It’s very different, but the skills you need are the same. And so, when she described the work that she did, all of the paperwork that goes along with the forms that you have to fill out, and all of that kind of stuff, I knew she would have the skills to handle the job. That was a very important part for me,” said Noe.
Although ORHS is Fleming’s first time working directly at a school, she is no stranger to working with teenagers, and that was also a key factor in her hiring. Fleming has her own kids, has coached a girls’ travel basketball team called the ‘Bearcats,’ and has experience working with athletic boosters and fundraising for school sports at Noble High School in North Berwick, Maine. For Noe, that experience, compounded with Fleming’s prior work experience, made her the right choice.
Fleming is also learning quickly in her position in the front office, embracing her new role as the ‘face of ORHS.’ “Everybody makes mistakes when you first start learning something. But she just takes it all in stride and says, ‘Ope- Yep- I missed that; I’ll get that next time,’ but then she does. She makes sure whatever the thing was missed that one time, she does it the next time,” said Noe.
Staff also enjoy working with Fleming. Christine Clark, Administrative Assistant for Noe, said, “She’s really funny,” and, “I enjoy working with her because we just have fun in the office, and… she does what she needs to do… but she enjoys interacting with everybody, she enjoys interacting with kids, and it’s fun working with someone like that.” When I asked Clark for the worst part about working with Fleming, she replied, “I haven’t found one yet.”
I have to agree with Clark; Fleming does have a good sense of humor. I asked Fleming a couple of fun questions at the end of my first interview with her, and to my question of ‘If you were an animal, what animal would you be?’ she responded, “I guess the rightful answer is that I would like to be a bobcat, but if I couldn’t be a bobcat, I’d probably be a squirrel.”
However, there are some cases where students are not too fond of Fleming. Fleming has been strict in holding students accountable for their actions regarding entering and exiting the building. These things, for students, often involve signing in and out of the building using their IDs during downtime, as well as just being in the building when and where they are supposed to be at any given time, but Fleming is the one who has to tell them that they have to follow the rules.
This enforcement is rooted in student safety. Clark says Fleming once told her, “‘Heaven forbid, if anything were ever to happen, I would hate to think that there was something I could’ve done to prevent it. So, I will check everybody going through that door.’”
On the first day of school, Fleming even stopped Dr. James Morse, Superintendent of Oyster River, from entering the building. At the time, Fleming had not yet met Morse and questioned him through the front door’s intercom. According to Clark, “[Fleming] said ‘Hello, can I help you?’ [Morse responded,] ‘Yes, can I come in please?’ ‘Well, who are you?’ ‘The Superintendent?’ She hadn’t met Dr. Morse yet… but, you know, she sure passed that test.”
For Fleming, there is also moral that comes with enforcing the rules bestowed on her by the ORHS administration. “I’m a rule follower by nature, and… I figure that, as I’ve gone through my work life… I never wanted to hold others accountable if I wasn’t being accountable. So, same goes with the door. We all need to be safe.”
To end my follow-up interview, I asked Fleming for one thing she would like to tell students. She said that she loves sports, especially basketball, that she loves Disney, and, after a short pause, she laughed and said, “I’m not evil!”
When she eventually leaves ORHS, Fleming hopes to travel the world. When I asked if there was anywhere specific she wanted to go, she said, “no, just all the places I’ve never been, which there are a lot.” For now, though, Fleming is happy to be in her position at ORHS, and she’s excited to continue getting to know students and improving in her role in the front office. From Special Agent to High School Secretary, Colleen Fleming is the new face of ORHS.