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State hits HARC for $310,000

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TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

Taxpayers take note: the state reclaimed $310,000 that it says the Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens, or HARC, fraudulently stole from you.

Florida's Chief Financial Officer says former HARC administrators billed the state for services it did not provide in its HomeLink program.

In HomeLink, HARC's clients were supposed to provide services such as yard work or cleaning to homebound senior citizens. HARC then billed Florida's Agency for Disabled Persons for reimbursements.

An 8 On Your Side investigation revealed in January that Florida's Department of Financial Services had evidence of improper billing, and was readying to pop HARC.

"HARC was actually billing for individuals who had already been placed in a senior living facility, they were billing for individuals who did not even exist, false names completely, and regrettably they were billing for those who had already been deceased," Florida CFO Jeff Atwater said.

Atwater called the scheme fraud from top to bottom.

"It was not a mistake, it was clear these were not errors, it was not a misjudgment call, it was repeated efforts by management, administrators within HARC to misrepresent the types of services that were being offered," he said.

Last summer HARC attorney Cynthia Mikos explained to the agency's board of directors that HARC not only billed for dead people, it filled out paperwork stating they were satisfied with the work performed.

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

"That's a shocking allegation," HARC Foundation chairman Steven Brannock said in January. "If that happened, and it happened improperly, we would be just as angry about it as the state."

Atwater said it happened, and the fact that HARC took money from other developmentally disabled people is despicable.

The state became aware that something was up with HARC's billing in the HomeLink program when former employee Tiffany Thomas filed a lawsuit against the agency. She claimed that former HARC CFO Frank Pannullo pressured her to create false documents for the HomeLink program using names from a Meals On Wheels program.

Pannullo told 8 On Your Side in February, though he signed the invoices, he knew nothing about billing the state for people who were already dead.

"You've got to understand I was not involved at all in the programmatic part of that program," he said.

Pannullo was fired by former CEO Richard Lilliston.

When the board discovered in late 2011 that Lilliston and Pannullo both collected unauthorized $1,800 a month car allowances, it fired Lilliston.

Lilliston has refused comment on anything related to HARC.

Atwater had plenty to say.

"They were pulling money down from the state that could've gone to others in need and it was not an accident. This was intentional they had all the documentation they knew what they were doing they thought they'd get away with it," Atwater said.

Since HARC had no money and its assets were leveraged beyond their value, Atwater says DFS sat down with the company insuring HARC's board and officers and worked out a settlement.

Last summer Mikos warned HARC's board the state might seek $2 million dollars in restitution, fines and penalties.

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