Another audit has uncovered more irregularities in accounting practices at the state Department of Children, Youth and Families.
This time, the former director of the agency faces possible investigation. A nonprofit contractor called the Center for South East Asians is also under scrutiny.
DCYF contracted with the Center for South East Asians to provide case management and translation, although auditors were unable to find any documentation about the specifics of those services. DCYF’s former director Janice DeFrances received direct payments from an account managed by the center for consulting fees, dues for a private women’s club, and several dinners, according to the audit. Some of the expenses were incurred after DeFrances left her DCYF post in January.
Current DCYF Director Jamia McDonald says she has alerted authorities about the findings.
“I think it poses a very serious concern around state ethics, which is why we made that referral," says McDonald, including a referral to the state ethics commission and to the state police.
Janice DeFrances could not be reached for comment.
A spokesman for the Center for South East Asians says the group will respond to the audit’s findings in a meeting with McDonald this week. The spokesman said in a statement that the group believes it has been "maligned based on some of the assumptions in the audit."
State police were not immediately available for comment. A spokesman for the state ethics commission acknowledged that the commission had received the referral but could not yet comment on whether a preliminary investigation had begun.
DCYF has requested the return of nearly $500,000 dollars from the Center for South East Asians, money the agency says was sitting, unused, in a bank account that was previously unknown to DCYF. The account was intended to fund DCYF employee health and wellness activities. It appears from the audit that some luncheons for staff were paid for by the account. It's unclear why the Center was asked to manage the account, including a checking account, on behalf of DCYF.
Payments from this account went, in some cases, directly to former DCYF director Janice DeFrances for consulting fees while she was technically overseeing a contract with this vendor. One payment from the account, for $1650.00, was requested via an email from DCYF's former director for membership dues to a private women's club called Belizean Grove. Another request for a check for more than $700 dollars made in May 2015 was for two dinner meetings, several months after DeFrances had already left her job at DCYF.
Going forward, all DCYF vendor contracts worth more than $1 million dollars will be audited, says McDonald. She says she's working to ensure greater transparency and adherence to state purchasing regulations for all of the agency's expenditures.
Link to audit: