HARC faces investigation, assets sold - WFLA News Channel 8

HARC faces investigation, assets sold

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Richard Lilliston, former CEO of Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Centers. Richard Lilliston, former CEO of Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Centers.
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

Increased costs, debt, funding cuts and a swarm of state and federal investigations have brought the Hillsborough Association of Retarded Citizens, now known as the Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Center (HARC) to the brink of financial collapse.

One investigation in particular could cost HARC more than $2 million.

Florida's Department of Financial Services (DFS) is investigating HARC's Homelink program. HARC's web page refers to Homelink as innovative.

Under the program, HARC provides developmentally disabled clients to assist homebound seniors with services such as cleaning, lawn mowing, and cooking.

Florida's Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) is then billed for those services.

An 8 On Your Side investigation has confirmed there are real problems with the way HARC billed the state.

"The problems took place under our prior management and administration, folks who are not here any longer," HARC Foundation chairman Steven Brannock said.

HARC board of directors meeting tapes obtained by News Channel 8, reveal the agency's records are missing and that investigators found HARC billed the state for providing services to people that did not exist.

At the July 23rd, 2012 meeting HARC attorney Cynthia Mikos told the agency's board of directors that state investigators relayed HARC billed for 24 people who do not exist.

Even more outrageous, she told the board DFS investigators told her the records show that 5 elderly people HARC said it provided services to, were already dead when that service was supposedly provided.

"We billed services on deceased people and we said how they loved their yard work," Mikos told the board.

Mikos also told board members that some of the clients HARC claimed did the work, were actually names of HARC employees and managers.

And some folks HARC billed the state for weren't seniors at all.

"I mean you know it's one thing to say we lost our records, we're not doing a good job. It's another thing completely, a different level of problems to say I have somebody writing false notes and turning them in. That is clearly fraud and believe it or not, surprise, surprise, they intend to charge HARC with the Florida false claims act," Mikos told the board.

Mikos also informed the board the state found HARC billed Florida $119 per quarter hour for Homelink, which is 32 times the approved rate.

As of July 2012, APD had paid HARC $705,000.

Mikos told the board the state is disallowing more than 80% of HARC's billings and is demanding $570,000 back plus penalties that could total more than $2 million.

"This is the most egregious of the things I have seen to date," HARC attorney Cynthia Mikos told the board.

Brannock says HARC is so broke that it can not afford an attorney or accountant to determine if the billing was a mistake or not.

"That's a shocking allegation and if that happened and it happened improperly, we would be just as angry about it as the state," he said.

Brannock contends that HARC's board is being fully cooperative with DFS investigators.

DFS will neither confirm nor deny that it is conducting an investigation.

Florida's Agency for Persons with Disabilities started funding the Homelink program in August 2008.

By December 2010 a lawsuit filed by Tiffany Thomas, an employee former HARC management terminated, outlined complaints with the way HARC ran Homelink.  Thomas filed a claim under the whistle blower's act. Her suit alleged former chief financial officer Frank Pannullo told her to make up names of senior participating in Homelink.

HARC denied the allegations.

Efforts to contact Pannullo were unsuccessful.

According to Thomas' attorney Benjamin Williams, the two sides signed a confidential settlement.

All of this occurred under the watch of former executive director Richard Lilliston.

"I have absolutely no comment about HARC," Lilliston said.

HARC's board, which is responsible for watching the henhouse, fired Lilliston in late 2011.

Most of HARC's $5 million dollar operating budget comes from the state.

The agency was started in a one room schoolhouse, 60 years ago by a group of parents who sought an alternative to placing their developmentally disabled children in institutions.

It became a nationally recognized leader for developing programs to educate, train and help special people with special needs achieve their maximum potential.

HARC is now sinking in a sea of red ink. Its volunteer board has struggled for more than a year to keep the doors open, lights on, and pay staff.

HARC's board today sold the agency's assets to a company called Sunrise Community Inc. and Regional Properties Inc. Sunrise will take over the agency's facilities, including its group homes, day centers and the services it provides 350 clients and HARC, as the bay area has known it for the last 60 years, will cease to exist.

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