Autism Group Returns $52,000 to S.C. Education Department after Nerve Story

June 30, 2014

Investigative Reports

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AutismThe state Department of Education has been repaid $52,046 by the South Carolina Autism Society following a department audit of the nonprofit organization’s financial records for the grants, department records show.

The Nerve learned of the repayment this morning after being informed that the state Legislative Audit Council (LAC) issued its own critical audit of the S.C. Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN), which contracts with the Autism Society (SCAS) for service coordination.

The Department of Education’s audit of SCAS was done after The Nerve revealed last August that Craig Stoxen, 48, the longtime president and CEO of the West Columbia-based nonprofit, shot himself to death in February 2013 in a nearby hotel room amid an investigation by the state Office of Inspector General (OIG) into the alleged mishandling of public funds by the organization.

A day after The Nerve’s story, the governing board of DDSN, which was part of the OIG investigation, moved to review related policies and practices. DDSN spokeswoman Lois Park Mole told The Nerve last year that a review by DDSN of the Autism Society’s financial records found that “(s)ome service expenditures were mislabeled,” though she added, “All DDSN funds were accounted for.”

Mole told The Nerve today that the Autism Society matter was not addressed in the LAC audit released this morning.

The July 2013 OIG report said a total of $462,060 in funds allocated by the state Department of Education (DOE) and the state Developmental Disabilities Council – a division of the Governor’s Office – to SCAS for fiscal years 2010 through 2012 was unaccounted for. The report said a former SCAS bookkeeper admitted she submitted false grant-reimbursement requests at the direction of the SCAS president – who wasn’t named in the report, though OIG officials confirmed Stoxen’s identity for The Nerve – resulting in nearly $189,000 in overpayments.

The DOE audit found that $52,046 of $173,655 in funds awarded to SCAS by DOE through the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 was “unaccounted for or inadequately supported by financial reports.”

The DOE in an October 2013 letter asked SCAS to reimburse the $52,046 to the department. The Nervethis morning learned that the department received a check from SCAS for that amount on Dec. 10, the day after The Nerve reported about the request.

Meanwhile, the audit released this morning by the LAC – the investigative arm of the S.C. General Assembly – found, among things, that:

  • About 25 percent of all DDSN direct caregivers are hired without knowledge of their criminal histories, based on a statistically valid sample;
  • DDSN boards or providers did not always have procurement policies, violated emergency- and sole-source procurement exceptions, regularly circumvented DDSN procurement protocol, and are not regularly audited for procurement compliance; and
  • DDSN did not implement 12 of 63 recommendations made in a 2008 LAC audit and partially implemented 17 other recommendations. The General Assembly did not implement any of the three recommendations in the 2008 audit to amend state law.

The latest audit recommends that lawmakers amend state law to:

  • Require pre-hire, national fingerprint-based checks for all direct caregivers, regardless of state residency status;
  • Mandate that all abuse, neglect and exploitation allegations be reported to the Vulnerable Adults Investigations Unit of the State Law Enforcement Division;
  • Add day programs as a facility type to ensure that abuse, neglect or exploitation allegations at those programs are easily reported; and
  • Require vulnerable-adult investigative agencies to share specific case dispositions with the relevant DDSN facility.

“DDSN is very pleased with the report in a number of ways and finds the report to be very helpful,” Mole told The Nerve when asked about the latest audit.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.