SCDC: Suspensions, fines ordered in Turbeville Correctional grant mismanagement case
TURBEVILLE, SC (WIS) - An eight-month WIS investigation has uncovered tens of thousands of tax dollars misused by administrators and nearly a dozen employees of the Turbeville Correctional Institution. The money came from the State Department of Education's 21st Century Grant to educate inmates inside the prison's Palmetto Unified School District.
In October, sources within state corrections turned over documents and information to WIS that several members of TCI's administration and educational department had misused more than $33,000 in federal grant money. After investigating the tips, WIS sent former SCDC director Jon Ozmint a Freedom of Information Act request on Jan. 5, 2011, asking for documents related to the grant, and the employees associated with it. The FOIA went unanswered by former corrections spokesman, Josh Gelinas and Ozmint for months.
On March 7, 2011, WIS sent a second FOIA request to the new SCDC Director Judge Bill Byars, requesting the same information on the 21st Century Grant. One week later, Byars called SLED in to investigate the case. As a result, 11 employees of TCI were suspended and ordered to repay $16,327.16 to SCDC.
21ST CENTURY GRANT
The grant was supposed to provide literacy education to TCI inmates between the age of 17 and 21 years old, and required teachers to work Monday through Sunday; 15 hours a week. The schedule was 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. for 25 weeks. The grant covered the 2009-2010 school year.
SCDC records showed that 11 SCDC employees applied for and accepted positions under the grant. Those employees included the prison's two Associate Wardens, a Captain and Major, as well as two Special Education teachers, a Principal, two Human Services Coordinators, a Corrections Officer and an Administrative Specialist.
SLED INVESTIGATION AND FINDINGS
On March 14, 2011, State Law Enforcement Division Special Agent Natalie Crosland opened an investigation into "allegations of misconduct by officers for Misuse of Federal Grant funds," according to the SLED investigative report. From March 15 through April 5, SLED interviewed all 11 employees associated with the grant.
SLED found no criminal misconduct with the use of the grant funds, but did recommend to SCDC to handle to employees administratively. "Inexperience, problems with the way the administrative structure, overseeing the grant was set up. But, we really didn't find the criminal intent that we would need to prove to make charges, or refer this to prosecution," SLED Director Reggie Lloyd told WIS.
Lloyd said it appeared SCDC was pushing to get their hands on the federal grant money, but didn't have a plan in place to correctly spend the money, or to carry out the grant's purpose, "I analogize it to the dog who's chasing the car. You get a hold of the tire or you bite into the bumper and now all of a sudden, you've got to figure out what to do with this thing," Lloyd said.
SLED found that the employees had charged hours for work under the grant on timesheets that the prison's key card system showed the employees were not at work inside the prison. Lloyd said his investigators could not prove whether the corrections employees actually performed work during those hours, which kept the agency from bringing charges. "What we were looking for was—was there work actually not being done; were people just saying that they were working two, three hours at home during a particular week, when in fact, there was no curriculum developed; that sort of thing," Lloyd said.
SLED found that the employees had overcharged the grant in order to spend all of the $180,000 allotted to the prison, so that the grant would be renewed the next year.
SCDC INVESTIGATION AND DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS
Thursday morning, after nearly six months, SCDC turned over investigative records, employee personnel files and disciplinary records pertaining to the 21st Century Grant to WIS. The records showed that SCDC first found out about the allegations of misuse of the grant money in the Summer of 2010, then referred the case over to the FBI. The amount of money associated with the grant did not meet the bureau's threshold for prosecution, so the FBI did not investigate or recommend prosecution of the case to the US Attorney's office, according to Lloyd.
During SCDC's investigation, all 11 employees were interviewed and explained how they overcharged the grant for hours worked. Investigators found that the prison's principal, Alan Parker, noticed that the grant funds would not be completely spent by June 30, 2010; the end of the grant. Records showed that Parker told the employees to increase the hours they entered on timesheets to the grant money was used up.
The overbilling amounted to $33,162.50, according to SCDC records. Each employee was required to pay back half of that total. Through SCDC's investigation, the projected overpayment of each employee is listed below:
|Kevin Coleman, Captain||$1,518|
|LaTrell Thomas, Corrections Officer||$3,751|
|Linda Bradshaw, Associate Warden||$3,124|
|Alan Parker, Principal||$4,563|
|Kenneth Sharp, Major||$1,242|
|Richard Cothran, Associate Warden||$3,696|
|Myra Pasley, Human Services Coordinator||$3,355|
|Rhonda Mack, Human Services Coordinator||$3,256|
|Jacqueline Wingard, Special Education Teacher||$3,795|
|Mary Spring, Special Education Teacher||$4,345|
|Paige Coker, Administrative Specialist||$507|
Disciplinary records showed that each employee, except Coker, was suspended for one week, and ordered to repay half of the total listed above. Many of the employees faced termination as a punishment, according to the records. Parker was demoted from principal to a teacher inside the prison's high school. Parker took a $5,098 pay cut. Many of the employees received write ups listed as "falsification of documents," and "unprofessional conduct." SCDC records do not show any terminations.
SCDC closed the case in May, after each employee served their suspensions. The restitution amounts are being withheld from the employee's paychecks, until the total amounts owed is repaid. SCDC has reapplied for the grant, according to SLED.
Corrections director Bill Byars was not available for an interview. Interim director, Robert Ward declined a request for an interview Thursday.