MANATEE -- Manatee County YMCA officials responded to allegations that employees of the organization defrauded taxpayers of more than $100,000 by claiming the problem was all a document issue.
Officials called an emergency press conference Saturday morning at Pride Park in East Bradenton in response to the Clerk of Courts audit report that was released Thursday.
"Our own internal investigation also found flaws in our documentation process," said Sean Allison, president and CEO of the Manatee County YMCA. "Documents could have been flawed, but what isn't flawed is our character and our commitment to the community," he said.
Allison said he took full responsibility for the errors in documentation that had occurred but said there had been no evidence as yet that any fraud had occurred.
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Officials also said that they did not wait until the clerks' audit was complete to take action, beginning their own internal investigation and terminating an employee who was found to have doctored documents.
If it is determined that money needs to be paid back, then it will be, YMCA
officials said. No clear indication was given on how that would be done, however. Allison also pledged the YMCA would cooperate with any further investigations.
"We don't anticipate any funding changes, we don't anticipate any staff reductions, we don't anticipate any service level drops in any in programs throughout the Y," Allison said. "What will result is a concerted effort to make sure all our documentation is correct."
Among the many employees and volunteers from the YMCA who were present at Saturday's press conference was Pastor Jerry Parrish. The county's audit report says that Parrish, gang outreach coordinator for the YMCA, improperly documented travel logs and other records showing how tax money that funded the program was being spent.
Parrish denied the allegations but admitted he may have made mistakes in his paperwork.
"There is no truth to it," Parrish said. "It's exciting though, because it brings attention to what we do. "
Parrish could not recall attending a specific wedding the audit claims was a personal expenditure, but he said that he often attends weddings of families he helps and often ministers them, too.
"I'm a minister, that's what I do," Parrish said. "It's part of reaching kids."
Joey Brannon, chair of the Manatee County YMCA board of directors, assured the community that the children and families they were tasked with serving were in fact served.
"What we really want everyone to understand is the programs occurred. The children the families that were affected by these programs were served, and they were served to very great affect; the impact of these programs is unquestionable," Brannon said. "The YMCA is doing its job."
The board is also on top of the problem, he added.
"We as a board take our charge seriously, to steer the dollars Manatee County gives us," said.
Moving forward, the YMCA will conduct an internal audit every two years, Allison said.
"We feel like we are going to get questions about fidelity on our own from now on going forward," Allison said. "You can't really rely on a staff person whose heart is to serve kids, who comes to work every day and focus on the needs of children and families to conduct this kind of audit," Allison said. "We need professionals to come in and do that."
A couple dozen members of the community, along with employees and volunteers, came out to hear what officials had to say.
Laketa Taylor said Parrish helped her children by getting them involved in football and basketball.
Taylor said she didn't believe the allegations.
"He has been involved with my kids for nine years," Taylor said. "I can say he is like a father figure because my kids lost their father about three years ago."
Manatee County has started the process of firing two employees tasked with administering and monitoring the relevant funding agreements after the clerk's audit found they "failed to adequately perform their duties."
County officials could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.