YMCA's explanation for fraudulent billing to Manatee County inadequate

July 10, 2014 

Sean Allison, CEO of the Manatee County YMCA, holds a press conference at Pride Park to address the findings of a Clerk of Courts audit of the use of funds for their programs. According to the report, auditors found the YMCA defrauded the county more than $100,000. TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald

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The Manatee County YMCA cannot minimize a detailed audit of its billing to county taxpayers for after-school and gang-prevention programs as mere "flaws" in documentation.

The audit by the county clerk explicitly states the YMCA "submitted false information to Manatee County as support for funding received through Children's Services program agreements."

The Y submitted "falsified attendance documents." That constitutes fraud, not a records flaw as the Y contended at a Saturday press conference.

Not when there was "obvious evidence of whiting out the dates and using a different color ink to put the new date on there," as Deputy County Administrator Karen Windon told the Herald.

The audit uncovered $102,422.79 in either inaccurate or undocumented billing during the Y's 2011-2012 contract year with the county.

Sparked by an anonymous complaint in March 2013 and then followed by more than a dozen other reports of improper billing, the Manatee County clerk and comptroller conducted an audit -- releasing its report last week.

While the YMCA fired one employee, the audit concludes that "it does not appear that the creation of falsified records noted was the act of a single individual but included the actions of several individuals."

The YMCA has yet to account for that finding.

Accountability at county

Manatee County government is acting properly by holding its employees accountable for failing to adequately monitor Y invoices. Two workers charged with that responsibility, the human services manager and an analyst, are being fired.

Numerous red flags existed but went unchallenged, as the audit noted: "Many errors were found in the numbers reported ... which should have been identified by contract managers."

The audit found exact duplicates of student sign-in sheets for November 2013 in support of county payments for the Y-Dash Harlee Middle School program. The county was also billed for attendance at a gang prevention program when schools were not in session, and for services by YMCA employees whose timecards indicate they were not working those days.

During interviews with YMCA staff during its investigation, auditors reported that agency employees claimed to have been instructed by the county's Community Services office how to "maximize billings" with erroneous documentation and even amend previous payment requests. Auditors could not find evidence to substantiate those claims.

But this is another troubling element of the audit, casting blame elsewhere.

None of this speaks to the value of the YMCA to the community, especially its broad spectrum of programs serving youth and improving lives. That is unquestionable. And the agency has vowed to pay back the bogus invoices, all good and well.

This is certainly a bizarre chapter in the organization's storied history. The motive behind falsified billing sheets remains unknown, and the scandal merits a deeper explanation than offered so far.

Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker called the deception intentional in an interview with the Herald. More disturbing, though, is another one of his statements:

"It would appear it runs the gamut from the top to bottom of the YMCA organization."

The claim of just documentation flaws -- as stated in Saturday's Pride Park press conference by YMCA president and chief executive Sean Allison -- does not wash away all the findings in the audit.

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