WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 9-15, 2012)

SCANDAL

Public guardian: CEDA chief defaults on repaying his former secretary; Much- lauded CEO is targeted after not repaying disabled former secretary.” By Cynthia Dizikes and David Jackson. Chicago Tribune. January 10, 2012. The leader of one of the state’s largest nonprofits promised in court last year to repay tens of thousands of dollars to his dementia-afflicted former secretary after the Cook County public guardian alleged he exploited her financially. But records show that Robert Wharton, chief executive officer of the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County, subsequently defaulted on that settlement agreement, writing checks that bounced due to insufficient funds.
Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris has now asked Circuit Judge Ann Collins-Dole to hold Wharton in criminal contempt, incarcerate him for up to six months and force him to reimburse his one-time employee, Dorothy Hork. “It’s wrong for so many reasons,” Harris said in a recent interview. “Dorothy is compromised because of dementia, she can’t control her basic life functions, and she was pretty much on her own. And the only one she called a friend was Robert Wharton.” Harris alleged in a court filing in June 2010 that Wharton had taken about $63,000 from Hork over several years, coaxing her to write him more than 50 checks, ranging from $200 to $3,500 often in rapid succession. Although the checks had “loan” written on them, Harris alleged Wharton never planned on paying Hork back.

U.S. Report Criticizes New York on Monitoring Care of Developmentally Disabled.” By Danny Hakim. New York Times. January 10, 2012. The federal government sharply criticized New York’s oversight of the developmentally disabled in a new report, saying the state agency charged with oversight lacks independence from the governor’s office, failed to account for how it is spending public money and has broken several requirements of federal law. The report from the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, which The New York Times obtained on Tuesday, raised questions about whether the Cuomo administration has gone far enough in its efforts to reform the Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons With Disabilities. The commission, which is supposed to be a watchdog over much larger state agencies that care for the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill, has been sharply criticized as not fulfilling its mission. According to the report, the commission’s very structure worked against its oversight role. Among other things, both the commission and the agencies it is supposed to oversee, including the State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, report to the governor’s office. In most other states, similar watchdog groups are set up as independent nonprofit organizations. The report noted that the commission’s chief cannot even make independent hiring decisions. The report also cites the commission for inadequate policies regarding the handling of confidential records and for not seeking sufficient information from families of the disabled. It says the commission failed to turn over documents detailing how federal money was being spent in the agency, as required by law. And it found that there was “no evidence of data-driven strategic planning to establish goals” in the agency. The report was prompted by a series of articles in The Times last year that examined problems of abuse, neglect and financial mismanagement in the state’s system of caring for developmentally disabled people.

Santorum charity for the poor spent most of its money on management, political friends.” By Carol D. Leonnig and Dan Eggen. Washington Post. January 13, 2012. As Republicans gathered for their national convention in Philadelphia a decade ago, Rick Santorum, who was then an up-and-coming senator from Pennsylvania, launched a charity he said would improve the lives of low- income residents in his home state. But homeless families and troubled children were not the biggest beneficiaries of “Operation Good Neighbor.” Instead, the foundation spent most of its money to run itself, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for fundraising, administration and office rental paid to Santorum’s political allies. The charity also had significant overlap with the senator’s campaigns and his work on Capitol Hill. Among the leading donors to the foundation were Pennsylvania development and finance firms that had donated to his election efforts and had interests that Santorum had supported in the Senate. Santorum, whose last-minute surge in the Iowa caucuses has brought new attention to his presidential bid, portrays himself as a common man concerned about the gap between the nation’s rich and poor. But in the case of his charity, his efforts ended up mostly helping his cadre of political friends. Before it folded in 2007, the foundation raised $2.58 million, with 39 percent of that donated directly to groups helping the needy. By industry standards, such philanthropic groups should be donating nearly twice that, from 75 to 85 percent of their funds. “That’s exceptionally poor,” Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, a national organization that rates charitable groups, said of the group’s giving. “We would tell donors to run with fear from this organization.”
Related story:
Santorum charity for the poor spent most of its money on management, political friends.Washington Post. January 13, 2012.

Sandusky-founded charity Second Mile to sell 60-acre site.” No by-line. USA Today. January 13, 2012. A charity founded by a former Penn State assistant football coach charged with molesting boys said Friday it was putting up for sale a 60-acre property where it had been building an educational center. The Second Mile told The Associated Press before a planned announcement that funding had stopped for its Center for Excellence after founder Jerry Sandusky was arrested in November and was charged with sexually abusing several boys, some of them on Penn State’s campus. Construction at the central Pennsylvania site began last year, but the project was canceled two months ago. The nonprofit said it was evaluating its options for the future and was trying to preserve programs, calling the Bellefonte property sale a key step in reaching that objective. “While we are saddened that the Center for Excellence will not be built, those feelings pale in comparison with the anguish we feel for the victims of the abuse reported by the attorney general,” it said in a written statement, which didn’t reveal the property’s price tag. The charity said programs scheduled for the coming months, including a leadership institute in early April, will continue. Sandusky, 67, founded The Second Mile in 1977 to help at-risk youths. Investigators allege that he met most of his victims, if not all, through the State College-based charity. Sandusky, who was an assistant to former coach Joe Paterno, has been charged with 52 criminal counts for what state prosecutors have said was the sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period. He maintains his innocence and is out on bail while he awaits trial.

Priest gets 3 years in prison for stealing from church; Msgr. Kevin McAuliffe stole about $650,000 from his Las Vegas-area parish over nearly a decade to feed a gambling addiction. His parishioners had urged the judge to show mercy.” By Ashley Powers. Los Angeles Times. January 13, 2012. For years, Msgr. Kevin McAuliffe lived something of a double life. He was widely admired by his flock at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, which he helped build into one of the largest Roman Catholic parishes in the Las Vegas area. But at the same time, he was stealing money from the church. Over nearly a decade, he pocketed about $650,000. His motive was all too familiar in Nevada. McAuliffe was a gambling addict. On Friday, U.S. District Judge James C. Mahan judge waved off the defense’s request to give McAuliffe probation. He sentenced the priest, who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the thefts, to more than three years in prison and ordered him to pay restitution. McAuliffe’s attorney, Margaret Stanish, had asked the court to consider his lifelong devotion to the Catholic Church, which started with helping nuns when he was a schoolboy. McAuliffe has also been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and depression, she said, but in recent months had “excelled” in gambling addiction treatment. Dozens of parishioners asked the court to show mercy. Before McAuliffe’s gambling addiction was made public, some parishioners told reporters he must have had a Robin Hood-type reason to steal. McAuliffe, 59, appeared to them a picture of humility, with his scuffed boots and banged-up Cadillac. But the judge was more heavily swayed by prosecutors, who focused on the length and depth of McAuliffe’s deception. He falsified parish financial reports and shuffled money among accounts to cover his thefts, court papers said.

Video maker had sordid past, strong advocates; Calling himself fully rehabilitated, decries firing by conservatory.” By Michael Rezendes and Patricia Wen. Boston Globe. January 14, 2012. Peter E. Benjamin, the registered sex offender hired by renowned conductor Benjamin Zander to tape performances by a youth orchestra, was a respected figure among Boston’s cultural elite, producing photographs and videos for Boston Ballet, the Opera Company of Boston, the American Repertory Theater, even the Boston Red Sox. But in the early 1990s, Benjamin served prison time after pleading guilty to charges that he videotaped himself having sex with male teens. Sex abuse allegations against Benjamin date to the 1970s.

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