Special Ed provider accused of bilking taxpayer money

Posted at: 11/20/2012 12:16 PM
Updated at: 11/20/2012 6:30 PM
By: WNYT Staff

LATHAM - When we stopped by the offices of "Achievements," a special education service provider, we were told the Executive Director wasn't there.

We wanted to ask about a State Comptroller's audit that found more than $180,000 misspent; taxpayer money meant for children with special needs.

The audit found $68,000 was spent on personal goods and services for director Tami Callister and her husband, who also works at Achievements.

The Comptroller said the Callisters charged taxpayers for concert tickets to see Phish and Dave Matthews, as well as airfares and hotels for vacations like Disney World and a Carnival Cruise.

The audit also found they charged over $12,000 for a home entertainment center, plus a dishwasher and installation of fencing. And, membership fees to a recreation center.

After we pressed our questions, a compliance officer with Achievements read us a statement, saying they've corrected problems pointed out in the audit, including excessive charges to lease office space.  

"As to the reports findings of certain weaknesses in Achievements cost reporting, Achievements acknowledges that there are certain deficiencies in its accounting oversight structure," said Lynn Goliber. "It should be noted, however, that prior to the audit's initiation, Achievements recognized these issues and had begun to take steps to correct those matters. Going forward we believe that they have been corrected, and no similar issues will re-emerge."

But the state investigators say Achievements' directors, the Callisters, tried to conceal their personal charges and have referred the case to the Albany County District Attorney. The bottom line they say: taxpayers were bilked out of their money.

"You can make excuses about things and try to rationalize it away but the manual and guidance is pretty clear on what's allowable and not allowable," said Jerry Barber, Deputy Comptroller.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is calling for the State Education Department to do a better job of monitoring how taxpayer money is spent on special education service providers.