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State Stops Its Funding of Agency After Audit : Investigation: The Center for Independent Living is accused of misusing money. Clients will be transferred to another facility.

February 20, 1992|FRANKI V. RANSOM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

EAST SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — State officials are cutting off funding to a Glendora nonprofit agency after an audit showed irregularities in how the agency used state and federal money.

Department of Rehabilitation officials said the 250 clients now served by the agency, the Center for Independent Living, would be transferred to the Services Center for Independent Living in Claremont beginning March 1. There would be no cuts in service.

The Glendora agency on Foothill Boulevard suffered a net loss of $100,000 over the past four years, according to a report compiled by state auditors. The losses came from overpayments on leases and because the private center failed to solicit matching funds from private donors, said Department of Rehabilitation spokesman Curtis Richards.

The matter will be turned over to the state attorney general's office, he said. "We found some improprieties, and enough questions were raised that we have a responsibility to refer the matter to the attorney general's office," Richards said. "They will do a criminal investigation."

Without the state contract, the Glendora center will close, Richards said. He also noted that the center had failed to install bathrooms that are accessible to the handicapped.

Center Director Regina Dravis resigned from her $35,000-a-year position in November because of what she said were personal problems with the five-person staff. She had been director since 1987.

In December, after staff members complained that the board of directors was not properly governing the center, state officials audited the center's financial records.

"It was taxpayers' money and we felt we had to do something before the center was in financial struggles," said Valerie Wilson, the assistant director. "Our point was the board should have been overseeing what the executive director was doing."

Board President Ben Bennetti Jr. could not be reached for comment. But according to the state audit report, Bennetti told officials that "previous to the director's resignation, he had not been involved in the day-to-day operation."

The audit said Dravis purchased an unnecessary $4,700 telephone system and was paying on two separate building leases. It said she signed a three-year lease for the center's existing site in Glendora in October, while still paying on the remaining 1 1/2-year lease on the old building in Covina. The report was unclear about whether board members approved the agreement.

Dravis, now an interpreter for the deaf at Cal Poly Pomona, maintains that she did nothing wrong. "They're mad at me, they don't like me," she said, referring to staff members. "This problem has been going on for 4 1/2 years. They said they would get me."

Dravis refused to comment further, saying she plans to file a harassment lawsuit against the center.

Richards said the state's $190,000 one-year contract with the center will end June 30. In the interim, the state will pay the $62,000 remaining on the contract to the Claremont center, which will take over the Glendora agency's clients.

A separate $35,300 grant for services to the deaf was cut off Feb. 7, because the center failed to raise $10,600 in matching funds. Hearing-impaired clients were referred to the Greater Los Angeles Council on Deafness in Covina.

The Glendora center, founded in 1978, assists the disabled and elderly in the San Gabriel Valley in applying for government benefits, such as housing subsidies, Social Security disability insurance, Supplemental Security Income, Medicare and Medi-Cal. Employees also teach clients independent living skills, such as personal hygiene and how to pay bills, cook and open bank accounts.

Several clients complained that the trip to Claremont will be difficult. John Andre, 46, who is blind in one eye, is getting help from the center in applying for Supplemental Security Income benefits. It's an hourlong bus ride from his West Covina home to Glendora, Andre said. He estimated that it would take two hours on three buses to get to Claremont.

David Wolfe, who is blind, said it takes him an hour on two buses to get from his home in Pasadena to Glendora. He estimated that it would take twice the time and three buses to get to Claremont.

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