The problems at Acadiana Outreach Center were more pervasive than we first reported, which, it turns out, was news to us and the AOC board. By Walter Pierce
The meeting Monday morning in the conference room at the Independent office downtown started off tense. We — Editorial Director Leslie Turk, Staff Writer Heather Miller and I — sat across a table from Acadiana Outreach board member Rob Robison and newly appointed Executive Director Jill Meaux. We wanted to know why we were played for rubes in our recent cover story on the near financial collapse of Acadiana Outreach Center. In our Aug. 17 story, AOC’s financial woes came off as more or less a combination of mismanagement at its ambitious Three Graces addiction-treatment facility in Abbeville and a precipitous decline in both state funding and charitable contributions.
But on Sunday of this week in an investigation by The Advertiser’s Claire Taylor, we found out the problems at Three Graces were more grave and varied than we realized or reported two weeks earlier, including lurid accounts of sex between an AOC supervisor and a patient and misappropriation of another patient’s savings account by an AOC employee who used the misbegotten money to bankroll casino gambling and dining at restaurants — isolated accounts in the greater sweep of things, to be sure, but key facets of the story that deserved reporting. Moreover and most important, the loss of state money was due to AOC being placed on probation by the state’s Access to Recovery program for failing to report both the aforementioned sexual indiscretion and theft from a patient’s fund in a timely manner.
But Robison and Meaux insisted — and we Ind staff members walked out of the meeting believing them — that they were unaware of many of the revelations in Taylor’s report or the extent of the problems they had caused at the time we spoke with them. The Sunday Advertiser was an eye-opener for them, too.
There was nothing garden variety about the mismanagement at Three Graces — it was gross, it was negligent, it was epic. Ousted CEO Rick Newton and the non-profit’s bean counter, Richard Hinchee — an accountant hired on a contractual basis — played a shell game with AOC revenue and with the income of patients, which is held in a savings account while they’re undergoing treatment as a means of, honestly, protecting them from their addicted/recovering selves. And Newton and Hinchee evidently were so far beyond dissembling in the financial picture they painted for board members that it borders on lying. No, screw it, it was lying.
Money was improperly moved around from various accounts in an effort to meet payroll as projections for patient occupancy and the revenue it represented fell far short of projections. Yet Newton assured uneasy board members that everything would be OK, that a suspension of state funding was just that — a suspension and not a revocation — and that the funding would be restored after a little perfunctory paperwork was submitted. Dot an i, cross a t. Voila.
The Abbeville inpatient detox center was designed to be not only a self-sustaining facility, but a revenue-generator as well — a means of weaning AOC off the teat of charitable contributions, which had fallen off precipitously in the bad economy and which, like sales taxes, are a capricious source of income anyway.
Robison says he spent weeks with a CPA pouring over AOC’s books in an effort to uncover fraud. So far, none — at least no criminal fraud — has been found.
Regardless, this is egg on our face at the newspaper, I’ll reluctantly admit. We didn’t submit the public records requests. Kudos to Taylor and the daily for digging. Much of the detail reported in the daily on Sunday, had we performed our due diligence, would certainly have made it into our story, but merely as warts on an already ugly portrait of a poorly managed non-profit with goals that in retrospect were far too lofty. Yet I don’t think they would have changed our conclusion: AOC has a laudable mission and performs a necessary function in our community, if helping drug addicts deal with their addictions and move back into society is laudable, and we think it is.
Ultimately what seems to be at the bottom of the financial misery AOC is suffering right now is that it is run by a board of well-meaning, civic-minded people, most of them otherwise successful in business, who meet too infrequently and were naive about how easily a non-profit organization — especially those through which a lot of government money is funneled — can slide into dysfunction. The Lafayette Housing Authority comes to mind. Pollyanna does, too.
The board hopes to recover all fees paid, plus one-half, along with what could amount to hundreds of thousands in additional penalties.
Oh, the irony... or something like that.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
St. Patty's Day crafts
The former star of Saturday Night Live throws in his 2 cents on the Big Oil lawsuit.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday, March 10, 2014:
New menu items ready for the Lenten season
The Cane Fire Film Series screens “MaidenTrip” on Monday, March 10, at the AcA.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The vibe of the tribe done modern
The Louisiana Workforce Commission said Friday that initial claims rose to 2,125 from the previous week's total of 1,964. There were 2,887 initial claims during the comparable week in 2013.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
She’s the daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, but she’s been a gifted artist in her own right for three decades, and she’s coming to Lafayette.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.