Florida attorney general investigating HARC - WNCT

Florida attorney general investigating HARC

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Vickie Caldwell has been a HARC resident for 20 years. Her mother wants to know what happened to the money in her trust account. Vickie Caldwell has been a HARC resident for 20 years. Her mother wants to know what happened to the money in her trust account.
"I think they should have to account for every penny that's missing," says Carolyn Caldwell. "I think they should have to account for every penny that's missing," says Carolyn Caldwell.
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

Florida's Attorney General confirms her office as well as other agencies are investigating the Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens, dba, the Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Center.

Last year, the AG closed its investigation into Medicaid fraud issues at HARC.

"Multiple units within my office are actively investigating this matter along with other agencies," Attorney General Pam Bondi told News Channel 8.

Bondi would not divulge specifics of the investigation.

But the mother of 44-year-old HARC client Vickie Caldwell hopes someone takes a look at what happened to the money that was supposed to be in her daughter's trust account.

"I think they should have to account for every penny that's missing," Carolyn Caldwell said.

Caldwell says Vickie, who has the mental capability of an 18 month old, was placed with HARC more than 20 years ago. She has lived in a HARC group home in Riverview since.

An 8 On Your Side Investigation discovered HARC took most of the $49,000 Vickie was supposed to have in a special trust and used it to help fund its daily operation.

"We were never told that they were going to use money from trust funds to keep the doors open," Caldwell said.

Vickie and other clients' money helped pay for expenses that included an unauthorized $1,800 per month car allowance for former HARC CEO Richard Lilliston and another one for former CFO Frank Pannullo.

Carolyn Caldwell says she had no idea Vickie accumulated that amount of money or that HARC went through it.

"I was never given information about how much was in her account," she said.

Vickie, along with other group home residents, receives Medicaid benefits.

Since Medicaid recipients can not have more than $2,000 in assets, the government allows agencies like HARC to set up trusts, in which clients can bank money for treatments and therapies that Medicaid will not cover.

An 8 On Your Side investigation found while HARC did indeed establish a trust, that's not where it put the clients' money. Instead, the benefits of more than 40 clients including Vickie Caldwell's, were deposited into a money market account in SunTrust bank and HARC used it like a giant slush fund.

"There's a proper way to handle a pool trust and this just doesn't appear to me that there was anything proper about it," trust attorney Charles Robinson.

The contracts HARC had clients sign to join the trust, called joinder agreements, were hardly proper either.

Carolyn Caldwell doesn't remember signing such an agreement for Vickie.

"Vickie is not capable, she has an 18 month mentality. She wouldn't be capable of signing anything or agreeing to anything," Caldwell said.

It didn't seem to matter to HARC who signed what.

According to an attorney general investigation of the trust and HARC, a former employee told investigators clients who were not mentally competent signed the joinder agreements without a guardian present, basically handing their money to HARC.

One such joinder agreement was made out for a developmentally disabled client named Robert Franklin in 2007. It appears Franklin made a few illegible marks in the area where his signature was required. The document was signed by former CEO Lilliston and notorized by former CFO Pannullo in 2007. The employees who signed as witnesses actually didn't start working for HARC until two years later.

"That sure smells, it sure looks bogus to me," Robinson said.

It all smelled bogus to HARC's board of directors as well.

The board fired Lilliston when it learned of his lavish car allowance and that HARC had cleaned out clients' accounts.  It also says it invited families to meetings to explain that pooled funds were used for operations.

Audio recordings of board meetings that took place during the summer of 2012 obtained by News Channel 8 reveal HARC teetered on financial collapse.

The recordings also reveal while the board determined it would only pay essential bills, it also wanted to know if HARC had the money necessary to pay for an insurance policy protecting the board from lawsuits filed by angry parents.

"How do we protect ourselves?" board member Marshal Burnett asked at an August 2012 meeting. "We are current on that policy right?"

Another board member suggested that if HARC ceases to exist, the board members might have to chip in every month to keep paying the premium.

HARC sold its assets to Sunrise Community Inc. in February.

The only way for clients to get their money back is to sue HARC's former board of directors.

Carolyn Caldwell says she'd consider legal action against HARC's board, because she claims with the money gone, Vickie can not afford to go to a dentist to have a front tooth that was knocked out replaced.

"I think she deserves her money back and it deserves to be used for what it was supposed to be allocated for, the speech therapy, the physical therapy, the dental whatever the needs are that there are not enough Medicaid funds to pay for," she said.

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