Forensic auditor asked for records on Head Start
CAO’s use of federal dollars was focus before company’s work was halted
A special accounting firm hired by concerned board members at the Community Action Organization was seeking specific records on the agency’s use of federal dollars for Head Start programs when it halted work on its forensic audit.
While the CAO’s chief executive has publicly asserted that the auditor was never hired, a contract and emails obtained by The Buffalo News show that Chiampou Travis Besaw and Kershner, or CTBK, began its “engagement” with the completion of a contract in early December and a request for records one week later.
But CTBK never issued an audit. The firm ended its work in January, days after CAO’s president, treasurer and four other directors were dismissed from their positions. At least four of the dismissed directors had tried months earlier to fire the longtime CEO because, internal correspondence shows, they wanted more data than he typically provided about the agency’s $51 million in annual spending.
On its website, CTBK tells prospective clients about its ability to perform forensic audits, which are intended to detect fraud. But the Community Action Organization’s CEO, L. Nathan Hare, argues that the agency’s regular accounting firm, Szymkowiak and Associates, examines the agency’s books every year and provides its reports to state and federal regulators.
Szymkowiak each year accounts for the nonprofit agency’s income and expenses, assesses its client’s own internal controls and suggests improvements. Szymkowiak’s audit for the fiscal year ending in February 2018, which is the most recent audit that CAO has made public, identified no problems with the agency’s internal controls, but it was limited in scope.
However, some CAO board members, suspicious about the use of some funds, decided in late 2018 they wanted the agency to undergo a forensic review.
Hare has criticized The News for reporting – wrongly, he says – that the board hired a second firm to further examine the finances. “No second outside audit was started,” he said in a letter to his staff addressing the newspaper’s articles.
When The News asked for a copy of the contract with CTBK, Hare said there wasn’t one.
“CAO never signed such a contract and has never seen such a contract,” he told the newspaper in an email on March 19. “If anyone entered