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Suffolk audit: Victims' agency overbilled county by $231,000

The Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk, which assists victims of domestic violence, had poor internal controls for processing expense claims, a county comptroller's audit says.

Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy, outside the

Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy, outside the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge on Feb. 11. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

A nonprofit that assists victims of domestic violence, rape and other assaults overcharged Suffolk County by $231,120 over two years, primarily due to poor internal controls in processing expense claims, according to an audit by Suffolk Comptroller John M. Kennedy.

The audit of the Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk found “numerous inconsistencies” in salaries claimed for the county program and the actual hours worked, resulting in a $108,920 disallowance.

The audit, which covers 2015 and 2016, also found that $24,476 in salaries reimbursed by federal funds also were claimed by the agency as a match to get funding from other federal programs, which is not permitted.

In addition, $22,768 in salary reimbursement from the county was duplicated in payments from other sources, the audit said. The victims bureau also failed to perform proper reviews of claims, leading to a disallowance of another $18,287, the report said.

Kennedy, a Republican who is running against Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone this fall, said the audit showed “abysmally bad” reporting of work time. Kennedy blamed Bellone for failing to properly oversee contract agencies that work for the county.

“It is abundantly evident that County Executive Bellone can’t make sure that money for battered women is spent right,” Kennedy said.

Bellone spokeswoman Marykate Guilfoyle said Kennedy “should be ashamed at himself for once again using his auditing duties as a way to level cheap political shots in the media.”

Walter Stockton, chief executive officer of Independent Group Home Living Program Inc. of Manorville, which took over the victims bureau at the end of 2016, said his agency will seek to appeal the comptroller’s findings.

Stockton said the victims bureau, despite problems, provided needed services for abuse victims. But he said that like many small nonprofits, the agency was overburdened with extensive record-keeping requirements and little technical help in complying with rules.

He said IGHL, a larger nonprofit with $120 million in contracts to provide services and support for people with developmental disabilities, has staffing to improve victims bureau operations.

The Victims Information Bureau, based in Islandia, which received $1.26 million in 2015 and 2016, assists survivors of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and human trafficking. It provides a hotline, helps domestic violence victims with housing and provides counseling.

In an official response to the audit, Marybeth Lichtneger, IGHL’s chief fiscal officer, conceded there were “significant operational and administrative disruptions and challenges during the audit period,” before the takeover occurred.

“We do understand that certain information was absent during the audit period and we share the comptroller’s frustration with this absence,” Lichtneger said. “However, in some cases the absence of part of the information should not be construed to indicate services were not performed … or staff did not properly complete their tasks.”

In its response, IGHL agreed with all but one of the audit's recommendations. Lichtneger said she viewed the findings as “best practices” that will be implemented as appropriate.    

IGHL officials said they took over at the request of the former victims bureau board of directors as a way to “salvage its operations and provide … comprehensive operational stability.”

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