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.
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
C & C Technologies, HIT Fitness, R3 Sciences, the Acadiana Symphony Association and the United Way of Acadiana recognized for innovation.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
The Acadiana Symphony Orchestra has decided to end its traditional Independence Day spectacular known as Red White & Boom.
Under the deal, Teche shareholders would get 1.162 shares of IberiaBank for each share of Teche stock.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday, April 17, 2014:
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
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Dave Perkins, LCG Comp Plan honored along with local architects and designers at the 2014 INDesign Awards
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Longtime Lafayette retailer ventures online.
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Regional bank bids farewell to Downtown May 30
ABiz takes a look back at the most noteworthy moments for the local banking industry over the last year.
Most experts say short-term interest rates will be unchanged through 2014, but long-term rates are inching up.
Largest recruitment event in Acadiana returns May 21 to the Cajundome Convention Center
A lawyer’s ad should only be a starting point, as there is much more to consider when seeking quality representation.
Thanks to the inaugural 2012 INNOV8, a design for lifting heavy objects was brought to market.
The annual juried competition recognizes excellence in architecture, interior design and historic preservation in Lafayette and the five surrounding parishes.
Cypress Bayou GM hosts open house.
New hires, promotions, transfers in Acadiana business
The scion of a landmark Four Corners restaurant climbs back into Lafayette’s culinary scene as franchisee for a popular burger chain.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.