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Long IslandPolitics

Comptroller: Nassau juvenile center failed to collect $1.3M in state aid

The Nassau County Juvenile Detention Center is owed nearly $1.3 million in reimbursements from the state that it has yet to collect because of internal errors and miscalculations, according to an audit released Tuesday by County Comptroller George Maragos.

The review, between 2013 and 2014, also found that some employees of the Leadership Training Institute, a firm hired by the county for $250,000 per year to provide educational services at the Westbury-based detention center, did not have a mandatory state teaching certification.

“The Juvenile Detention Center appears to be failing in its mission to help troubled juveniles, and is costing more taxpayer money than necessary,” said Maragos, a Democrat running for county executive.

John Plackis, acting director of Nassau’s Probation Department, which runs the detention center, said the errors have been corrected. He said the department is negotiating with the state to collect the reimbursement adjustments.

“The department is operating with a reduced staff but still delivering the required services mandated by law,” Plackis said in his audit response.

The audit comes as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday signed legislation prohibiting people under the age of 18 who are accused of nonviolent crimes from being housed in adult jails and prisons. The law could increase the number of youths housed at the center, the report said.

The Juvenile Detention Center is a short-term facility that houses youths ages 10 to 17 who have cases pending in Family, District or County Court. From 2012 through 2014, the center housed an average of 209 youths per year, with an average stay of 12 days. The facility has eight beds and eight more in reserve.

The center cost $13.3 million to operate from 2012 through 2014, with the state reimbursing the county about $8 million.

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services reimburses Nassau at a rate of 49 percent for every Nassau resident living at the detention center and 100 percent for all out-of-county residents.

But auditors found that the detention center misclassified 392 out-of-county days as in-county days in 2013, resulting in a loss of nearly $455,000 in state reimbursements. The county also failed to claim 145 care days, worth more than $120,000, for reimbursement in 2013, the review found.

Auditors discovered similar mistakes in 2014, including 616 out-of-county care days miscalculated as in-county days, costing Nassau nearly $633,000 in reimbursements. Also, 94 care days in 2014 were never submitted for reimbursements, totaling more than $67,000 in potential state funds, the audit said.

Charles Ribando, deputy county executive for public safety, said that county officials are in the process of finalizing the 2014 reimbursement requests and that Maragos’ calculations are premature. He blamed the errors cited in the audit on data “imputed incorrectly” in an electronic claims system.

Auditors also found that at least four contract employees with the Hempstead-based Leadership Training Institute did not provide proof that they had a mandatory Public School Teacher’s certificate.

Plackis said the institute’s staff “are eligible” to be certified. State officials, he said, have accepted existing documentation as proof of teacher eligibility.

LTI, which did not respond to requests for comment, also failed to screen three staffers in the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment database before they were hired, the report said. An educational coordinator with 30 years of experience, the report said, was not screened until after the comptroller’s audit inquiry. None of the employees were listed in the database.

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