CLEVELAND - The non-profit agency that oversees the preschool program for low-income children in Cuyahoga County double billed a federal grant for travel expenses and also allowed its employees to falsify applications so their kids could get free daycare, a federal audit found.
In all, the U.S. Department of Health and Senior Services issued five citations to the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland, or CEOGC, following a surprise visit in January. It has given the agency 120 days to respond.
It's the latest black mark for the CEOGC, which gets 95 percent of its funding from federal and state grants.
A Channel 3 News investigation last year exposed potential misspending by officials who spend tens of thousands of dollars on travel junkets to Las Vegas, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington D.C. The station also reported that its chief executive officer, Jackie Middleton, charged $400 worth of clothing at Saks Fifth Avenue on the agency credit card.
Middleton and CEOGC Board President George Forbes refused to comment on the latest federal audit. The agency also refused to allow the Investigator Tom Meyer into its offices, and Cleveland police were called to escort Meyer from the building.
The audit found that CEOGC officials double billed the Head Start grant for expenses on their $50,000 trip last July to Las Vegas. The feds say employees got reimbursed for tips and baggage handling fees -- even though the employees' per diem was supposed to cover the charges.
Regulators also discovered that CEOGC allowed four employees to file false applications so that their kids could get free Head Start preschool. It costs taxpayers more than $10,000 a year to educate a student in the program.
The feds say that the employees either failed to list their income on the application or they grossly understated it. In all cases, CEOGC officials approved the application.
The audit also noted that the four applications were the only ones out more than 350 submitted by parents that the feds had a problem with.
The audit also blasted CEOGC for violating its own procedures for spending under $100,000. The feds say the agency spent nearly $2,000 to purchase 45 fleece jackets for former and current advisers before the CEO authorized the purchase. In fact, it wasn't until nearly a month after the jackets were bought that the purchase was approved.
Finally, the feds cited CEOGC for not supervising top officials closely enough. For example, regulators found that Matt Gilmore, the head of public affairs, billed the government for eight hours of work for one conference call.