by Patrick Boyle
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges will pay
$300,000 to settle allegations that it committed fraud to get grant money from the U.S. Department of Justice. The Justice Department charged that the council falsified employee time sheets, billed the federal government for work by “ghost” employees, used grant funds to hire the spouses of employees and fired a worker who questioned those practices, according to the settlement filed this month in U.S. District Court in Reno, Nev.
Council President Judge Susan B. Carbon released a statement Tuesday saying that the council “did not admit liability,” but that the council “takes these allegations seriously and has reviewed its administrative and training policies to insure that the Justice Department will not have such concerns again.”
The council has received $97 million in federal grants since 1985, according to a Justice Department summary of the case, including several grants since the department filed the lawsuit in 2005 under the Civil False Claims Act.
According to that lawsuit and the settlement, which prompted the dismissal of the case on April 15, the Justice Department claimed that the council:
* Collected grant funds by billing for fictitious workers, double-billing for overhead and filling out employee time sheets “to meet predetermined billing targets, regardless of the actual hours worked on each grant by the employee.” Those actions allegedly occurred from 2000 to 2006.
The statement from Carbon said the settlement concerned “allegations about how the National Council recorded staff time on federal funded projects.”
* Hired the husband of Mary Mentaberry, now the executive director, as a real estate agent to negotiate property transactions from 1997 to 2001, for which “he received significant commissions (nearly $95,000),” and hired the husband of another employee as a computer consultant in 2001 and 2002, paying him $2,000. Those actions violate the Justice Department’s conflict-of-interest regulations for grantees, the claim says.
During that time, Mentaberry was director of the organization’s Permanency Planning for Children Department, according to the council. She became executive director in 2004.
* Wrongfully fired an employee, Serena Hulbert, for asking about “questionable practices” regarding grants that the council had appointed her to oversee.
Hulbert ignited the case when she filed a federal complaint in 2005 saying that she had questioned the council’s expenditures and allocations of funds under its federal grants.
Carbon’s statement said the council “determined that it was in the best interests of the national council and its long relationship with the Justice Department to settle these issues and resolve the department’s concerns.”
The attorney reading the statement, Tom Madden, said neither he nor the council would answer further questions about the case. Hulbert filed a new lawsuit for wrongful termination on April 23, according to court records.
Click here to read court documents filed in the cases.
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