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Published: Friday, 5/11/2012

School use of U.S. grant questioned

Area construction center examined

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS -- Poor record-keeping and supervision led to improper billing of wages, benefits, phone service, and consulting costs by a Toledo recipient of a federal economic stimulus grant, the Ohio Inspector General's office said Thursday.

The report urges the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to review expenses billed to an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant program in 2010 and 2011 that provided education, support services, and job training for minority and female participants for construction-related apprenticeship programs.

The alleged misspending by the Northwest Ohio Construction Education Center was uncovered as part of a routine review of Ohio's $8.7 billion in economic stimulus funds aimed at helping jump-start the national economy in the aftermath of the 2008 housing and financial institution meltdown.

The inspector general did not refer the findings to a prosecutor but did send them to the U.S. Department of Labor and the state auditor.

Voice-mail messages left with the construction education center were not immediately returned. The center was part of a multiorganization regional coalition awarded $550,000 under the Constructing Futures initiative.

According to the report, the construction center's executive director, Colleen Thornton, and an administrative assistant, Kristen Dewey, charged their wages and benefits to the grant program even though they had other duties unrelated to the grant.

They told investigators they did not track how much of their time was spent on the program. That changed after their interviews with investigators.

"Additionally, the investigation revealed that Thornton signed her own personal activity logs as both the employee and approver when someone else within the organization should have approved Thornton's activity logs," reads the report.

The report also indicated that office-space rental, phone, and bookkeeping costs were also improperly billed to the grant program.

The report identified $159,361 in questionable costs. It questioned $234,025 in billings by WSOS Community Action Commission Inc. made through the construction education center because too little detail was presented to support the charges.

It also questioned whether the northwest Ohio regional grant recipient had lived up to its obligation to provide 25 percent in matching support for the program.

During her interview with investigators, Ms. Thornton blamed confusing directions as to what were allowable costs and how they were to be documented.



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