Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Auditor: state-funded EMS council bilked of $389K by boss

by November 4th, 2012

The longtime Executive Director of a state-funded non-profit emergency medical services and trauma care council in Western Washington over six years bilked the agency out of almost $400,000 by writing herself extra paychecks, plus “operations and planning” stipends, and other unauthorized payments and excessive reimbursements. So asserts Washington State auditor Brian Sonntag in a fraud investigation report released November 1. It details the actions of Anice J. Grant while she worked for the Northwest Region Emergency Medical Services and Trauma Care Council. The council is one of eight statewide which coordinate first response to accidents, and related public and professional education programs. Its members include representatives of emergency medical and trauma care providers in Kitsap, Mason, Jefferson and Clallam counties.

According to Sonntag’s report, the Inspector General’s Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is now probing the case and it has also been forwarded to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. U.S. authorities have been notified because federal funds, passed through the Washington State Department of Health, helped fund the council. Though Grant is not named in the fraud investigation report, board meeting minutes and an interview with the council board chairman reveal her as the subject.

The council last year initiated a civil case against Grant in Kitsap County Superior Court to seek to recover the lost monies. Grant in turn, according to council meeting minutes, filed a civil action against the council to get vacation pay and “clear her name.” She was put on leave in September 2010 and dismissed a month later. The civil case is currently “in limbo” because Grant’s attorneys have not retrieved requested records from the council’s offices and have not responded to the council’s records requests, said council Executive Committee Chairman Steve Engle, Medical Officer with North Kitsap Fire and Rescue.

In another proceeding, unemployment benefits initially awarded to Grant by the State of Washington were later rescinded in an administrative hearing after the council appealed the decision. Grant, 63, has a registered voter address in Port Orchard, Kitsap County.

According to the state fraud report, Grant explained her the financial irregularities by saying the extra payments resulted from cashing out unused vacation pay twice yearly, plus quarterly grant management fees she was due, and a one-time raise “approved by the Board Chair a day after the Board denied it.”

But the auditor’s office in its report said it found no evidence her payroll checks included reimbursement for unused vacation pay. The report said using extra paychecks Grant overpaid herself $142,791 through writing one to seven additional paychecks per year, each for roughly 29 percent more than salary. At times, the fraud report states, she used a rubber stamp with the then-council chairman’s signature, to authorize her paychecks, and this continued for “up to 10 months after he was no longer chair.” State Auditor’s office investigators reported they could not determine if the checks went to the council’s board for approval or not. Misappropriations that the auditor’s office says Grant made, totaling 389,692.47, are detailed in the chart from the fraud report, below. Her annual salary was $52,876 in 2005 and had risen to $62,125 by 2011.

Source: Washington State Auditor's Office Fraud Investigation Report, Northwest Region Emergency Medical Services and Trauma Care Council, 11/1/12

The council in the fraud report said it has taken corrective steps to ensure such misappropriations won’t occur in the future. These accounting policies are posted on the council’s Web site. They include requiring the signature of an authorized executive board member on all checks, and a series of procedures to reconcile expenditure authorizations with internal records and bank accounts.

Engel, the council’s executive committee chair, said, “our business practices allowed this to occur. There was a lack of checks and balances.” Board members, “even though they put trust in staff, still have to wake up and do the job, hold staff accountable,” he said.

A message left for Grant, seeking comment on the fraud report, was not immediately returned. The State Auditor’s office began its investigation after an audit by the state health department revealed fiscal concerns about the trauma council’s operations.

In September, in another fraud investigation report, the State Auditor’s office detailed up to $71,000 in apparent misappropriations by the Executive director of another of the state-funded trauma care councils, this one serving Snohomish, Island, Skagit, Whatcom and San Juan counties.

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