Boston Herald Editorial: Public shortchanged
December 20, 2011
The failure of leadership at the Probation Department is the unwanted gift that keeps on giving. A report this week from Auditor Suzanne Bump indicates an appalling failure of state Probation officials to verify whether individuals applying for free legal services in Massachusetts actually qualified, a failure that apparently goes back years.
The Committee for Public Counsel Services provides legal services to the poor, but state law leaves it to Probation to verify indigency. In a review of fiscal 2010 records at 27 district courts, Bump’s staff found “near total noncompliance” with laws and regulations governing indigency verification.
That means the $47.9 million spent on state-sponsored lawyers in those courts is “unsupported and questionable,” Bump’s staff wrote. Yep, thanks to that failure of leadership at Probation, the state treasury continues to leak like a sieve.
The acting Probation commissioner, appointed after the patronage scandal broke, is working to correct the sins of the past by increasing training and arranging with other state agencies to verify indigency, the audit notes, among other changes adopted by the Legislature. But this issue bears continued scrutiny. The failure to verify whether a poor defendant is actually poor not only rips off taxpayers, it shortchanges the truly needy in favor of those who would cheat the system.
Auditor Bump finds $47.9 million in unverified public counsel expenditures
December 19, 2011
State Auditor Suzanne Bump today announced the findings of an audit of the state system for funding legal services to indigent individuals, revealing the state has spent at least $47.9 million in legal counsel services on individuals without verifying their claimed indigency.
“This finding is another element in the sorry legacy of misplaced priorities at the Office of the Commissioner of Probation,” said Auditor Bump.
The Committee on Public Counsel Services (CPCS) is the public agency charged with providing certain legal services to the poor, but the Office of the Commissioner of Probation (OCP) is the agency responsible for verifying that a person claiming to be indigent meets the definition established by the Supreme Judicial Court. Assessments are used to determine whether defendants are eligible for free legal services, able to contribute to their cost, or able to pay for their own lawyers.
While OCP personnel provide this function in all the courts, including Superior and Probate, the Auditor’s office sampled the process just in the district courts, which represents 49% of CPCS’s total budget. A review of the fiscal year 2010 records at 27 district courts found near total noncompliance with the indigency verification laws, rules, and regulations. None of the 27 courts performed any verification of documentation at an applicant’s initial screening. In the sample of cases pulled from these courts only 1.7% contained adequate documentation that court officials performed the required 60-day indigency reassessment, and only 0.8% had any evidence that the required 6-month reassessment had been conducted.
Press Release: Auditor Bump finds $47.9 million in unverified public counsel expenditures
Audit Report: Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Office of the Commissioner of Probation’s Administration and Oversight of State-Sponsored Legal Services to Indigent Individuals in District Courts
Boston.com: Homeless school children cost Waltham $200,000
December 13, 2011
The city of Waltham's school system paid more than $200,000 over the last two years to meet a federal requirement that it transport and educate homeless children, the state's auditor said today.
State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump's finding is the second review she conducted recently of the federal requirements. She previously found that Danvers incurred similar costs.
Her office found that Waltham, with less than 1 percent of the state's population, "hosts 12 percent of the homeless families the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) places in motels.''
Representative Thomas Stanley, a Waltham Democrat, said he asked Bump for the review after the state shot down his requests for additional transportation and education funding.
Unfunded Mandate Costs Waltham Over $200,000
Today State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump released a second local mandates review opinion with statewide implications for funding the education of homeless children. Today’s opinion letter, which details a cost analysis for the City of Waltham, reinforces Auditor Bump’s October determination that the state’s participation in a federal program which requires communities to continually fund the transportation and education of some homeless children after they are placed in a different municipality for temporary housing is an unfunded mandate costing cities and towns millions of dollars. The request for review came from Waltham State Representative Thomas Stanley.
“I do not question the wisdom or validity of the Commonwealth’s decision to enable homeless parents to choose whether to enroll their children in schools of their temporary host community or keep them in their original school,” said ,Auditor Bump. “Its embrace of a federal program, however, does require the affected school systems to incur new costs.”
Similar to her review of Danvers released in October, Auditor Bump analyzed three cost impacts to the “host community” (Waltham) and to “communities of origin”; the cost of transporting students between communities, the cost of educating students in communities of origin, and the cost of educating students in host communities.
Boston Globe: Dentist accused of bilking state
December 11, 2011
State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump has accused a Plymouth dental office – SmileCenter at 92 Sandwich St. – of taking a quarter-million dollars in unallowable reimbursements from MassHealth. According to Bump’s office, a review of SmileCenter’s records from fiscal 2007 to 2010 showed “a pervasive pattern of excessive treatments, duplicative payments, and payments for services that were possibly never performed.” In a letter to the state auditor’s office, attorneys for the dental office denied the allegations. “SmileCenter vigorously disputes the draft audit’s conclusions and recommendations, especially any finding, implication or suggestion that it engages in fraud or the provision of medically unnecessary services,’’ they said. Bump’s office advised SmileCenter to change its billing procedures, and advised MassHealth to try to recover the questionable reimbursements.
Worcester Telegram Editorial: Keep on looking
December 10, 2011
State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump continues to follow through on her campaign pledge to conduct aggressive audits of state operations. Her latest finding shows that Paul V. LaCava, a high-ranking assistant in the Worcester Family and Probate Court, was working outside teaching jobs during hours he was supposed to be tending to his court duties.
The revelation has not resulted in any disciplinary action, but it has been referred to the State Ethics Commission
We hope they look not just at Mr. LaCava, but at the practices and policies of his boss, Register of Probate Stephen G. Abraham.
The audit found that Mr. Abraham ran his office without proper controls, and added that while Mr. LaCava didn’t complete his duties as head administrative assistant, he did other work, serving in effect as an assistant register of probate — a position for which he lacked minimum education and experience requirements.
In a letter to the auditor’s office, Mr. Abraham defended Mr. LaCava, making clear his employee took the teaching jobs with his knowledge and permission. Mr. Abraham acknowledges that record keeping was “less than adequate.”
We trust the State Ethics Commission will get to the heart of this particular case, but we wonder how many other such cases exist in state government.
Auditor's Office ID's Over $500,000 in Public Assistance Fraud
December 9, 2011
In a quarterly progress report issued today, State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump said examiners with the office's Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI) found evidence of $506,721 in fraudulently obtained public assistance benefits and services.
Auditor Bump said BSI examiners completed 1,024 investigations, identifying 109 people defrauding the state out of welfare, food stamps, childcare services, health care benefits, public housing or cash assistance.
"In today’s economic climate, with so many struggling to get by, it is more important than ever to before to make sure every dollar given in benefits goes to those who are actually in need," said Auditor Bump. "BSI oversight identifies millions of dollars in fraud every year."
During the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2011, BSI received 2,419 complaints of suspected fraud and found $4.3 million in fraudulent claims. Examiners identified the largest percentage of illegally obtained funds, 65%, in MassHealth programs such as Medicaid and Personal Care Attendants.
WCVB Channel 5: State Employee Working Other Jobs On Court's Clock
December 8, 2011
A top court aide was getting paid to do other jobs, including as a college instructor, while he was on the clock at the Worcester Probate and Family Court, according to State Auditor Suzanne Bump.
The audit details that Paul Lacava, the head administrative assistant to Register of Probate Stephen Abraham, taught 21 courses between the spring 2009 and fall 2010 semester at three institutions -- Worcester State University, Quinsigamond Community College and Curry College. Seven of those courses were scheduled during times when court attendance records indicated Lacava was working at the court, according to Bump’s office.
Despite normal working hours for court employees being between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Lacava was teaching courses scheduled for 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. The audit noted that while some classes were held at 5:30 p.m., the time needed to travel from the court to class locations would have required Lacava to leave work before the end of the normal work day, and no leave time was documented to account for these absences.
Worcester Probate and Family Court Register's Senior Aide Works for Multiple Paychecks While on the Clock
December 7, 2011
State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump released an audit today of the Worcester Probate and Family Court (WPFC) which uncovered a top aide to the Register of Probate working multiple jobs while on the clock at the court.
The audit details that the Register of Probate's Head Administrative Assistant (HAA) taught 21 courses between the spring 2009 and fall 2010 semester at three institutions of higher education, seven of which during times when WPFC attendance records indicated that the individual was working at the court. Despite normal working hours for WPFC employees being between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., the HAA was teaching courses scheduled for 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. The audit notes that while some classes were held at 5:30 p.m., the time needed to travel from the WPFC to class locations would have required the HAA to leave work before the end of the normal work day. No leave time was documented to account for these absences.
The HAA is currently paid $65,391 annually and was compensated between $3,000 and $4,000 for teaching each course.
Furthermore, the audit revealed the individual serving as the HAA was performing only a fraction of the jobs required duties. According to collective bargaining agreements, the HAA is required to perform 19 different duties, including such higher level tasks as preparing the annual budget and acting as the courts purchasing agent. The HAA during the audit period only performed three of the required duties; supporting the department head, serving on various committees and advisory groups, and performing lower-level duties (e.g., transporting bank deposits).
Auditor Bump: Plymouth Dentist Greatly Overcharged MassHealth
December 1, 2001
State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump reported today that SmileCenter, a dental office located in Plymouth, received at least $253,519 in unallowable reimbursements from MassHealth.
The bulk of the identified money represents orthodontic services performed by a dentist who did not possess the required accreditation. According to MassHealth regulations, dentists who practice orthodontics must complete a minimum of two years’ training in a specialized program administered by the American Dental Association. SmileCenter’s sole dentist, who is also its sole proprietor, did not complete such a program but still billed and received $201,509 from MassHealth for orthodontic services.
“This is not just an accounting problem. This is a public health problem” said Auditor Bump. “MassHealth and its members who sought services from SmileCenter have little assurance that they received proper orthodontic treatment from this dentist.”
As a result of Auditor Bump’s investigation, MassHealth stated corrective action will include terminating SmileCenter’s specialty as an orthodontist, transferring its members for continued orthodontic treatment to other dentists, and seeking restitution as appropriate.
Press Release: Auditor Bump: Plymouth Dentist Greatly Overcharged MassHealth
Audit Report: SmileCenter