MANATEE -- A county audit has found officials at the YMCA defrauded Manatee County taxpayers of more than $100,000 designated for after-school and gang prevention programs.
One of the YMCA officials implicated in the investigation is Pastor Jerry Parrish, who leads the Y's much-publicized anti-gang programs in Pride Park and other neighborhoods in Manatee County.
Auditors found he improperly documented travel logs and other records how tax money that funded the program was being spent.
In March 2013, the county first received an anonymous complaint about how the YMCA was billing and subsequently received more than a dozen more complaints, according to an audit report from the Manatee County clerk and comptroller's office, the internal auditor for county government.
"Based on our review of documentation obtained and interviews with Manatee YMCA staff, we conclude that the allegations that the Manatee YMCA submitted falsified information to support funding received from Manatee County have been substantiated," the report states.
"We further conclude that
the Community Services Department staff assigned to administer and monitor the relevant funding agreements failed to adequately perform their duties."
Officials with both the YMCA and the county acknowledged there were problems with how the contracts were administered. The YMCA has fired one employee, and the county has started the process of firing two employees. The employees' names were not released by the county Thursday.
The clerk's office Thursday presented the report to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office for its review.
The audit found:
Falsified documents were given to auditors to support payments for the Y-Dash Harllee Middle School Program services. Student sign-in sheets provided for November 2013 for the site were exact duplicates of sign-in sheets also submitted as supporting documentation for the 2012-13 South Branch program. Also, while the Y-Dash program did not begin until October 2013, Y-Dash sign-in sheets showed January 2013 dates, the audit found.
Incorrect numbers were reported for the monthly billing for a gang prevention program, which is specifically supposed to take place in schools. The county was billed for days when schools were not in session. It was also billed for services by specific coordinators whose YMCA timecards said they were not working those days.
The YMCA reported incorrect numbers in monthly billings for the School Age Child Care program. The county was billed for the before- and after-school program over Thanksgiving break, Christmas break, New Year's Day, spring break and on Good Friday. The county was also billed for the program at non-school day camp sites on the same days as on-school sites.
Manatee County Community Services Department staff members failed to adequately monitor the YMCA programs, the audit found. No records reviews were conducted during the contract years tested by the audit to ensure the YMCA was maintaining proper documentation. In several instances, documentation supporting the existence of programs did not even exist, it said.
County auditors reported that during the 2011-12 contract year, Manatee YMCA got $352,313.30 generated by the Children's Services Tax.
"Based on our test work, we found that for $102,422.79 of that funding, the units of service reported by the YMCA, were either inaccurate or could not be verified with supporting documentation," the audit report said.
The county is in the process of firing two employees, who will be put on administrative leave without pay in connection with the audit findings, said County Administrator Ed Hunzeker.
"It was negligence, they didn't do what they needed to do; we were fraudulently billed, and they didn't do enough to catch it," Hunzeker said in an interview before the audit was released.
Hunzeker and Deputy County Administrator Karen Windon said rosters of participants in the programs were duplicated, and dates changed in order for the YMCA to receive county funds, they said.
"You can see obvious evidence of whiting out the dates and using a different color ink to put the new date on there," Windon said. "Or a January date that was made into a November date, or three dates that had the exact same sign-in list."
The deception, said Hunzeker, was intentional.
"It would appear it runs the gamut from top to bottom at the YMCA organization," he said.
Later, Hunzeker acknowledged in a prepared statement that county government employees were also at fault.
"The internal auditor's findings raise serious concerns that we do not take lightly," he said.
"While there are no signs of criminal wrongdoing on the part of county employees, there appears to have been an unacceptable lapse in accountability for the management of a contract the county holds with the YMCA of Manatee."
The YMCA's attorney, Shawn A. Arnold, said, "We requested to be informed of the findings, and through counsel, we were made aware of some of the contents, but at this point, just a couple of hours later, we haven't had an opportunity to go through the specifics in it.
"The things we're concerned about with the previous statements that had been made was the notion that, first of all, fraud had taken place in this case," he said.
Almost immediately upon notification that an investigation was going on, the YMCA board hired an auditing firm to do its own review, said Arnold.
During its work, it determined one person did alter a document, and that person has been fired, said Arnold.
He pledged the YMCA board would continue to investigate, cooperate with law enforcement agencies and any other investigating bodies, and would be "completely transparent."
"The board's mission is to get to the bottom of what happened," said Arnold. "And where the truth will lead us is what we'll take action on."
Sean Allison, the YMCA's chief executive officer and president, said he would invite the public to look at the success of the programs the organization operates.
"We're very proud of how we've served Manatee County. I know we've changed the lives of many kids, enriched the lives of families," said Allison. "The quality of the programming is something every person in Manatee County can be proud of."
Meanwhile, the county's audit specifically found that Parrish, the YMCA's youth at-risk director, inappropriately used funds. Parrish's travel logs did not provide times or purposes of trips, and some entries seemed like personal trips, such as visits to restaurants and stores, it said.
On April 7, 2012, the YMCA billed for a program day reporting eight hours for the program objective "provide effective prevention/intervention programs" and two hours provided for the program objective "expose gangs." But Parrish's mileage log indicated he attended a wedding, according to the audit.
Parrish, reached late Thursday, said he thought the YMCA would comment on his behalf, but added, "I'm excited about the future and the work we've got to do."
"It's all going to come out positive," he added.
R.B. "Chips" Shore, county clerk of the circuit court and comptroller, said the audit took about six months to complete.
Asked why it took more than a year after the first complaint was filed to produce the report, he said:
"It sounds funny, but we have so many audits we do, and so few people, after the first audit -- when we warned them -- it just took a while to get back to it."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites. Kate Irby, Herald online reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Follow her on Twitter @kateirby.