Lawsuit alleges charity sought to falsify records - WFLA News Channel 8

Lawsuit alleges charity sought to falsify records

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By Mark Douglas

TAMPA A sexual harassment lawsuit by a fired employee alleges that she was instructed to falsify records at a local nonprofit organization to justify a federal grant worth $30,000 a month.

The nonprofit, Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Centers, has spent decades polishing its reputation as a social services provider that spends about $6 million a year on programs for developmentally disabled adults.

Richard Lilliston, the chief executive officer and the face of the organization in news reports, refused to comment at first on whether the plaintiff, Tiffany Thomas, was even a former employee.

Later, Lilliston acknowledged she worked there but would not discuss the allegations.

"We deny anything illegal has occurred," he said.

Thomas says in the lawsuit she began working for HARC in 2002 as a community inclusion specialist but was promoted to AmeriCorps director in 2004 then to creative director in 2006.

Thomas said she was fired Feb. 4, 2009, over "misuse of the corporate credit card."

In her seven years there, she said, she was the persistent target of "discriminatory and harassing comments, actions and innuendoes by the Executive managers."

One of her allegations is that a manager watched pornographic movies and pictures on his work computer in the presence of female employees.

Thomas also makes a claim under the federal Whistleblower Act that HARC's chief financial officer, Frank Pannulo, asked her to falsify records in connection with a federal grant from AmeriCorps.

Pannulo asked for a list of senior citizens served by an outreach program funded by AmeriCorps, but Thomas replied there were none, according to the suit.

That's when Pannullo told her to "make them up," the suit says.

Her reply: "She didn't feel comfortable" providing false names "because it was illegal," the suit says.

Officials in Washington with AmeriCorps, a Clinton-era program that connects community service workers with local nonprofits, said the last record of a grant application from HARC was in fiscal 2006. The application was not funded.

HARC attorney Jolee Land refused in an e-mail to News Channel 8 to disclose Americorps grant records.

"Any relevant grant documents that may be in HARC's possession would contain confidential and private information, including social security numbers and Medicaid/Medicare numbers," Land wrote.

The Governor's Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service administered two AmeriCorps grants to HARC in 2005 and 2006 for $122,000 each year.

The commission doesn't have any records of a HARC grant from AmeriCorps during 2008, the period cited in the lawsuit, but HARC could have applied for the funding through the Americorps national office, said Mary Griffin, the commission's communications director.

Lilliston said Americorps funding for a HARC program called HomeLink, in which disabled adults fix up the homes of needy seniors, ended in 2006.

HomeLink "went a different direction" after that, Lilliston said, but he would not elaborate.

Internal Revenue Service reports show HARC received nearly $2.6 million in contributions and grants in 2007 but only $6,316 in 2008.

Thomas' attorney, Benjamin Williams, refused to discuss the lawsuit.

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