National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges will pay $300,000.00
by Patrick Boyle
Under a set of confidential agreements, 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, while its director will pay $16,500 to settle conflict-of- interest charges.
The Justice Department charged that the council falsified employee time sheets, billed the federal government for work by "ghost" employees, failed to disclose that it hired the spouses of employees and fired a worker who questioned those practices, according to settlements filed this month in U.S. District Court in Reno, Nev.
But mum is the word: The Justice Department and lawyers for the council and executive director said they could not discuss details of the settlements because they’re confidential, and could not discuss why they’re confidential.
Youth Today obtained a copy of the settlement with the council.
Council President Judge Susan B. Carbon released a statement 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. Many if not most of its grants come from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
According to that lawsuit and the settlement with the council, 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 leases 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. Mentaberry’s attorney, Judith Wheat, said the council had asked Mentaberry’s husband to help it find new office space to lease, and that his fees were paid by the building landlords, not the council.
During its investigation, the Justice Department said it should have been told about that arrangement. "Neither she nor her husband vioatled any laws or DOJ policies," Wheat said.
* 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."
Wheat said Mentaberry agreed to her own settlement with the department "to eliminate any concerns … that there might be even the appearance of a conflict of interest."
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys Office in Las Vegas, which handled the case, said details could not be discussed because "that settlement is confidential. " Asked why it was confidential, spokeswoman Natalie Collins said, "We couldn’t comment on that."
Asked who requested the confidentiality agreement, Mentaberry’s lawyer said, "It’s just what both sides agreed to do."
The attorney reading the statement for the council, 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.
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Connecticut DCF Watch
National Civil Rights Advocates For Families
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Forestville, CT 06011-9775
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