VACATIONS

Oklahoma Nonprofit Used Federal Funds For Holidays As an alternative of Sufferer Companies

She was in San Diego to learn to shield abuse victims. As an alternative, Candida Manion went wine tasting.

Federal funds paid Manion’s wage as government director of the Oklahoma Coalition Towards Home Violence and Sexual Assault. In September 2019, they lined her flights, lodging and meals for the Summit on Violence, Abuse and Trauma Throughout the Lifespan.

Moderately than studying extra about prosecuting baby abusers and treating batterers, Manion skipped a day of convention periods to sip wine with an worker.

Federal auditors uncovered a sample of improper and irresponsible spending underneath Manion that included convention journeys to Southern California and Florida. Cash meant to assist Oklahoma shelters, disaster facilities and victims was spent on worker and board member holidays.  

A federal audit reveals that on Manion’s watch, the Oklahoma Coalition Towards Home Violence and Sexual Assault squandered or mismanaged $886,495 awarded by the Workplace on Violence Towards Ladies from 2015 to 2020. That’s 98% of the grant cash spent by the coalition throughout these 5 years.

Although Manion and her worker paid for the wine-tasting journey to Temecula, the June report reveals she spent practically $239,499 on journey through the interval scrutinized by auditors — greater than triple the coalition’s price range.

Click on right here to learn the audit

Each six months, the Inspector Common’s workplace offers an audit report back to Congress. The newest report contains the Oklahoma Coalition Towards Home Violence and Sexual Assault audit and 40 others. Of the cash questioned by auditors, the Oklahoma nonprofit’s whole quantity was the third highest and much exceeded the opposite 4 applications receiving cash from the Workplace on Violence Towards Ladies.

The findings jeopardize crucial assist for Oklahoma girls and their kids, who are suffering abuse at a charge practically twice the nationwide common, in line with the most recent Youngsters Rely report. Throughout the pandemic, state home violence incidents reached their highest degree in no less than 20 years, the latest Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation information reveals. 

The U.S. Division of Justice may pursue felony costs because it did in a latest case involving the same nonprofit group in Montana.

The Workplace on Violence Towards Ladies may pressure the Oklahoma Coalition Towards Home Violence and Sexual Assault to repay some or the entire funds. It may forgive the total quantity. It may droop or ban the coalition from receiving future grant cash, making it much more troublesome for Oklahoma victims to search out justice and security.  

“We don’t have sufficient shelters, we don’t have sufficient employees and we don’t have the funds for to go round,” Manion mentioned throughout a city corridor assembly in Norman in 2019. “So, now we have to leverage our sources locally to get the work executed.” 

Manion was fired early final yr. 

Staff of the Oklahoma Coalition Towards Home Violence and Sexual Assault are in police stations counseling regulation enforcement on the best way to discuss to victims. They’re at shelters delivering masks and designing COVID-19 protocols. They’re on the telephone trying to find an empty mattress. They’re on the Capitol advocating for sufferer rights and entry to providers. They spend every week every year certifying sufferer advocates throughout the state so shelter administrators like Latricia Kippers can hold their doorways open. 

“We are able to’t do that work alone, by ourselves, and be efficient,” mentioned Kippers, who runs New Instructions in Lawton. “So dropping that coalition and that useful resource for steering and coaching and accreditations and all of that might not be good. I don’t know what else to say however it could actually be a disservice to shelters throughout Oklahoma.”

Latricia Kippers locations informational pamphlets in a show on the wall of New Course’s foyer on Jan. 12, 2022. Kippers is this system director on the Lawton shelter for victims of home violence and sexual assault. The Coalition Towards Home Violence and Sexual Assault designs, prints and delivers these pamphlets to shelters throughout the state. It additionally trains advocates that work with victims and connects applications throughout the state that provide completely different providers to make sure that victims’ wants are met. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

Frequency of Journey Questioned

When board members employed Manion in June 2014, they lauded her grant administration abilities and oversight of thousands and thousands in grant funding because the supervisor of tobacco prevention applications for the Norman Regional Well being System.

On the Oklahoma Coalition Towards Home Violence and Sexual Assault, Manion made no less than $60,000 a yr and managed an annual price range of $450,000 to $650,000, in line with earnings tax experiences. Federal funds made up many of the nonprofit’s income, that are supplemented with membership charges paid by sufferer service applications. 

Over a number of weeks, Oklahoma Watch referred to as and despatched texts to Manion, 49, and her lawyer requesting an interview for this story. They didn’t reply. 

Manion used coalition cash to ship board members to conferences in alternate for wanting the opposite manner when it got here to her spending, in line with allegations in paperwork obtained by Oklahoma Watch. The coalition’s former workplace coordinator, Jamie Bond, booked reservations in Orlando for one board member who stayed in a resort at Disney World together with her household. Bond described the journey as a kickback.

In a single case, auditors found Manion reimbursed herself for the price of a resort primarily based on the reservation quantity. However the resort bill confirmed the associated fee to be $465 lower than the quantity she was paid. 

In one other, funds designated to sufferer providers paid for the price of resort rooms for Manion and the coalition’s former bookkeeper, Kim Wynn. Auditors described these costs as in-town bills and in defiance of federal tips as a result of they weren’t for official enterprise.

The coalition routinely used federal funds to ship employees to in-state and out-of-state conferences. These grants permit for some journey. However the frequency and expense of Manion’s journey caught the eye of coalition board member Jan Peery. 

Jan Peery

“I can bear in mind at one level considering, ‘goodness, there’s loads of journey, loads of schooling happening,” mentioned Peery, who can also be the president and chief government officer on the YWCA in Oklahoma Metropolis. “However I additionally knew she was new to this subject.” 

Manion had no skilled expertise working with abuse victims. It made sense to Peery for  Manion to hunt extra schooling than previous administrators. And Manion did present updates to the board about what she was studying, Peery mentioned. 

However Peery was unaware Manion was skipping full days of the conferences.

Manion generally spent the day sleeping in her resort room as an alternative of attending periods, Bond mentioned. Manion would name Bond round 3 p.m. to verify in, saying that she had simply woken up and was performing some work earlier than going out to dinner and drinks with convention attendees, Bond mentioned. 

Melissa Blanton, left, chief of the Sufferer Companies Unit for the Legal professional Common’s Workplace, stands subsequent to Mackenzie Masilon, legislative liaison for the Oklahoma Coalition Towards Home Violence and Sexual Assault, at a Home Violence Consciousness occasion. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

The state Legal professional Common’s workplace certifies applications the coalition helps, guaranteeing they comply with state guidelines for reporting and meet its requirements of care. Melissa Blanton, who leads the sufferer providers unit, mentioned she attended two out-of-state conferences with Manion and “we attended each of them totally collectively.” 

Blanton mentioned she was unaware of any monetary hassle the coalition was experiencing till the audit report was launched. 

Manion was fired in February of 2021 and given two months of severance, in line with paperwork obtained by Oklahoma Watch

In the same case final April, the board chairwoman of the nonprofit Montana Native Ladies’s Coalition was convicted of fraudulent journey claims and theft of public funds from the Workplace on Violence Towards Ladies. The courtroom sentenced her to 4 years of probation and ordered her to pay $29,114 in restitution. The coalition’s government director and one other board member pleaded responsible to theft of federal funds and obtained probation and had been ordered to repay a mixed $38,100.

‘Funds That Are Meant To Assist Victims’

Denim pockets adorned with messages about sexual assault dangle on the convention room wall at New Instructions in Lawton. This system offers counseling, medical care and shelter for victims of home violence and sexual assault. New Instructions is certainly one of 28 sufferer service applications statewide that pay an $1,000 annual membership payment to obtain assist from the Oklahoma Coalition Towards Home Violence and Sexual Assault. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

Auditors additionally discovered the coalition’s report preserving defied federal grant necessities. 

Auditors questioned the entire cash spent on employees pay and advantages, greater than $526,000 as a result of they “recognized vital points associated to the reliability of the timesheets,” the report states.

Black binders, one for every fiscal yr, comprise timesheets for the coalition’s workers. Employees members had been accountable for monitoring their very own hours and paid day without work, and Manion for verifying their experiences. However Manion’s signature was lacking from years of timesheets.

After auditors emailed a remaining warning to Manion to offer documentation, she signed and back-dated a number of the previous timesheets, mentioned Bond, who despatched auditors copies of the timesheets earlier than and after Manion signed them. Manion additionally created retroactive timesheets for her personal hours and requested the nonprofit’s board chairman, Scott Mitchell, to signal them. He did. 

Mitchell declined to touch upon the incident. 

Scott Mitchell

“These are federal funds that should assist victims,” mentioned Bond, who’s a sufferer of childhood abuse and took a job on the coalition to assist others like her. “And it’s simply scary to me that somebody may simply are available in and maintain no regard for what that’s meant for.”

Bond mentioned she stop her job on the coalition in December 2020 after the stress of the audit and “poisonous” work surroundings turned an excessive amount of. The 31-year-old mom lives in Norman and now works for herself with no plans to return to sufferer providers. 

The coalition’s legislative liaison, Mackenzie Masilon, resigned two months later, although she has since returned as a contractor to work with lawmakers crafting laws. 

The following resignation of the bookkeeper left ReJeania Tolliver, who educated sufferer advocates, because the coalition’s solely remaining worker. Tolliver is now being ready to take over because the coalition’s director after the audit is resolved. 

Till then, Meline Epley, president of Elite HR Enterprise Options, is the interim director. Epley’s firm helps companies in transition and conducts employment regulation violation and fraud-related investigations, in line with her LinkedIn profile. 

Board member Tracey Lyall, who can also be the chief government officer of Home Violence Intervention Companies in Tulsa, is overseeing the brand new employees. 

Tracey Lyall

Lyall and Peery left the board a few years after Manion was employed throughout an effort to downsize and convey extra neighborhood members onto the board. Previous to 2014, the board was made up of a consultant from all of its member applications. 

In Jan. 2021, Lyall and Peery agreed to rejoin the board at Mitchell’s request to assist rebuild the coalition. 

Lyall mentioned they’re working with auditors to salvage the coalition, although its future stays unsure. 

Board members have already accredited new monetary insurance policies for the board and the coalition with assist from Workplace on Violence Towards Ladies auditors. A brand new requirement that the coalition director present grant purposes and budgets to the board will permit members to maintain higher tabs on spending, Peery mentioned.  

“You understand, there’s at all times gonna be a manner round safeguards if any individual’s deliberately doing one thing unsuitable,” Peery mentioned. “However for those who don’t have the safeguards there, it makes it an entire lot simpler and it takes lots longer earlier than you catch it.” 

Whitney Bryen is an investigative reporter and visible storyteller at Oklahoma Watch with an emphasis on home violence, psychological well being and nursing houses affected by COVID-19. Contact her at (405) 201-6057 or [email protected] Observe her on Twitter @SoonerReporter.

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