LAURINBURG, NC (WECT) – A state audit into Four-County Community Services revealed the non-profit has violated many policies and procedures and identified approximately $4.9 million in questioned costs.
Four-County is a non-profit organization that serves Bladen, Brunswick, Pender and Columbus Counties. The organization began operating in 1964 and runs the Head Start facilities and other services for eastern North Carolina.
According to the audit report, the executive director, Richard Greene who was fired in March 2013, received more than $215,000 in questionable payments and employees received nearly $641,000 in improperly paid bonuses.
The report also points out Four-County improperly spent $670,000 intended for Head Start for expenses unrelated to the programs.
According to the report, the agency used grant money to pay for employees' gym memberships, among other things.
Auditors and investigators discovered that Four-County paid a contractor for unperformed work, allowed that contractor access to the program's computer system, and didn't complete final inspections for all work.
In the past there had been allegations that Greene was secretly married to the Four-County fiscal manager.
Greene admitted in interviews in 2013 that he had been married for nine years to Annie Rothwell but preferred to keep it a private matter. Greene said some board members knew of the relationship, but had never disclosed it to the full board.
According to the audit report, Four-County violated conflict of interest, nepotism, and bidding policies and procedures related to contracts for vehicles, and other items and services.
The state recommends federal agencies that provide money to Four-County to reassess if this is an appropriate agency to deliver services on their behalf.
They also suggest Four-County work directly with state and federal agencies to determine whether questioned costs should be refunded.
Click here to read the entire audit report: http://bit.ly/1dtdU0M
Four-County Executive Director Ericka J. Whitaker issued the following statement in response to the audit:
With just three weeks in as Four-County's new Executive Director, I have thoroughly read the State Auditor's Financial Related Audit on Four-County and have already begun to mitigate practices to make the Agency even better. Many changes were made before I arrived to establish checks and balances, and I have made it clear that we will implement additional checks and balances where necessary so Four-County will operate efficiently in implementing its important mission. After reading this report, these findings do not sit well with me and I accept full responsibility to ensure the organization is compliant in every regard moving forward. Now that Four-County is under my leadership, you can expect a more transparent organization. I am working closely with the Board of Directors to build a strong management team with stringent financial controls; enforce policies and procedures; ensure staff are well-trained and understand state and Federal program guidelines and regulations, as well as hold them fully accountable on all levels as it relates to their assigned duties. Four-County has remained committed to serving thousands of children promoting school readiness and providing healthy learning environments under the Head Start program, and continues to empower families to rise above poverty by helping them to become more self-sufficient through other programs.
Board Chairman Jason King released the following:
After months of investigation, we are glad to have the final audit report. We can now move forward correcting the identified issues, but I must note that many of the findings in the report have already been corrected. As Board Chair, I am continuing to enforce a zero tolerance policy regarding any hint of the misuse or mismanagement of taxpayer funds. Every dollar in and out is now accountable. All expenditures of Four-County are under supervision. Since I became Chairman a few months ago, I have recommended we restructure the Board's financial advisory team and propose conducting routine internal audits. Every recommendation that I have made, the Board has agreed to implement. I am confident that the Board is committed to putting even more safeguards in place, in addition to the newly revised policies to provide the most stringent safeguarding of funds. The Board hired Mrs. Whitaker, the new Executive Director to provide new inspiration and energy, and a fresh perspective to the organization, and she has done exactly that.
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