Updated 06/25/2012 05:08 PM
Comptroller: Special education contractors misused public money
The state comptroller's office releases results of three audits conducted at special education programs, including Capital District Beginnings in Troy. The audits show special education contractors misused public money. Our Solomon Syed has more.
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ALBANY, N.Y. -- Capital District Beginnings Co-Director Paul Bashant said, "Capital District Beginnings is proud of the quality service we provide to children and families."
Bashant said the private, special education contractor did nothing wrong when it billed the state Education Department for more than $830,000 in salaries and stipends from 2008 to 2010. But now the state comptroller wants that money back.
"The money that's being spent on other purposes, not being spent on the children, that is really a rip-off," said Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
According to an audit, the comptroller said the co-founder and former co-executive director of Capital District Beginnings, Dr. Mary Garrett, collected a six-figure salary over the course of two years for what they believe amounted to a no-show job. That's because she was living in South Carolina at the time. There was also a $40,000 expense for her personal vehicle, as well as more than $100,000 in inappropriate bonuses for staff.
"No, it really is, it's outrageous," said DiNapoli.
Capital District Beginnings said it's more like a misunderstanding, with some of the expenses possibly helping Dr. Garrett deal with her own disabilities; she's a polio survivor.
Bashant said, "I feel Mary was worth even more than we paid her for the management services she provided."
Beginnings has over 200 staff and serves more than 1,000 kids throughout multiple local school districts. Troy City Schools used the service this past school year and tells YNN, "... [The district will] make sure that the young people are getting the services they need. And [the district] will carefully review cost and claims so they can protect taxpayers money."
DiNapoli said, "People, I guess, because they don't think anyone's watching, are taking advantage of the program, enriching themselves."
Bashant said, "We challenge the comptroller's findings and maintain there has been no misuse of public funds."
The comptroller's office does not consider this to be criminal, just unethical, but said it's up to individual district attorneys to prosecute. We reached out to the Rensselaer County DA who said it's too early to make any determination, but they are working with the comptroller's office to get more details.