Comp­trol­ler: Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence group fal­si­fied time re­ports

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY ANITA WAD­HWANI USA TODAY NET­WORK - TEN­NESSEE

The state’s largest do­mes­tic vi­o­lence or­ga­ni­za­tion fal­si­fied em­ployee time sheets and kept poor records, re­sult­ing in more than a half mil­lion dol­lars in ques­tion­able salary spend­ing, ac­cord­ing to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Ten­nessee comp­trol­ler.

The Ten­nessee Coali­tion to End Do­mes­tic and Sex­ual Vi­o­lence dis­putes the find­ings, not­ing the costs ques­tioned by in­ves­ti­ga­tors ap­plied to work com­pleted on time and un­der bud­get.

But the non­profit’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Kathy Walsh, ac­knowl­edged some “de­fi­cien­cies” in in­ter­nal over­sight. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has pur­chased time­keep­ing soft­ware and hired a new fi­nance and ad­min­is­tra­tion di­rec­tor to bet­ter track em­ployee record-keep­ing, her writ­ten re­sponse to the comp­trol­ler in­ves­ti­ga­tion said.

“The coali­tion ac­knowl­edges that the au­di­tors have brought to our at­ten­tion, weak­nesses in pro­ce­dures that we have al­ready be­gun to ag­gres­sively ad­dress,” said Walsh in a writ­ten re­sponse in­cluded in the in­ves­tiga­tive re­port.

The comp­trol­ler in­ves­ti­ga­tion, re­leased Tues­day, found time records for em­ploy­ees were fal­si­fied or didn’t ac­cu­rately re­flect time spent work­ing on projects funded by state or fed­eral grants. As a re­sult of those faulty records, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion ques­tioned salaries to­tal­ing $515,902 in grant funds.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion found a for­mer em­ployee was in­structed to falsely in­di­cate she was work­ing on a project funded by a fed­eral grant, even though she did not work on the project.

A for­mer em­ployee re­ceived un­earned leave and ben­e­fits

to­tal­ing $13,524 from lo­cal, state and fed­eral grants, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion found.

Poor record-keep­ing also led in­ves­ti­ga­tors to ques­tion $25,945 of Walsh’s salary for days in which they could not de­ter­mine how much time she spent lob­by­ing the leg­is­la­ture or rais­ing funds — ac­tiv­i­ties that are not al­low­able un­der the agency’s grant con­tracts.

The comp­trol­ler’s find­ings have been re­viewed with fed­eral prose­cu­tors in Mid­dle and East Ten­nessee, and the David­son County District At­tor­ney’s of­fice. As a mat­ter of pol­icy, the U.S. at­tor­ney does not con­firm or deny on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions, spokesman David Bol­ing said. Mis­use of fed­eral grant dol­lars can rise, in some cases, to a crim­i­nal of­fense.

“Doc­u­men­ta­tion is es­sen­tial for any en­tity that re­ceives grant money,” said Comp­trol­ler Justin Wil­son. “Time records should never be fal­si­fied with in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion. Lo­cal, state and fed­eral agen­cies must be con­fi­dent that grant dol­lars are be­ing spent as in­tended.”

Walsh, in her writ­ten re­sponse, dis­puted the amount ques­tioned by the comp­trol­ler and noted al­lo­cat­ing salaries for mul­ti­ple grants is “com­pli­cated and com­plex.”

Walsh said no em­ployee was asked to fal­sify records, but in one case an em­ployee was asked to re­vise her time sheet to ac­cu­rately re­flect the time she spent on grant-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties.

And Walsh said the coali­tion does not use any state or fed­eral grants to lobby or raise funds.

While au­di­tors who re­viewed Walsh’s Out­look cal­en­dar found notes re­flect­ing all-day ap­point­ments at Leg­isla­tive Plaza and one-hour meet­ings with law­mak­ers, Walsh said the re­al­ity was she spent 15 min­utes or less in meet­ings and per­formed other work du­ties while at the Leg­is­la­ture.

Walsh noted that it was “of the ut­most [im­por­tantce] to the coali­tion … that we ad­e­quately con­vey that the weak­nesses un­cov­ered by the au­dit are just that: weak­nesses.”

Reach Anita Wad­hwani at awad­hwani@ten­nessean.com, 615-2598092 or on Twit­ter @Ani­taWad­hwani.

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