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UCLA Bilked by Employment Agencies, 2-Year Probe Finds : Investigation: The radiological sciences department paid for temporary employees who could not have done the work listed, an internal audit shows. An FBI inquiry may determine whether campus officials profited from the scam.

January 23, 1995|AMY WALLACE | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

A two-year internal audit of spending by UCLA's department of radiological sciences has found that the university was duped into paying two employment agencies for temporary workers who could not have performed the jobs listed for them.

Among other things, UCLA auditors found that the university was billed for specialized work supposedly completed by seven teen-agers, including a 13-year-old who was listed on pay sheets as a $26-an-hour radiological technical assistant.

The audit, initiated by UCLA in October, 1992, and completed this month, also found that employment agencies listed spouses, siblings and children of UCLA employees as specialized workers and billed for their time--apparently without them knowing it.

According to auditors, the agencies overbilled the university and diverted money to the employment agencies, filing false invoices and collecting for services that may never have been performed. Three UCLA administrators were dismissed last year for approving payments to the agencies, but the audit did not determine whether they personally profited, partly because it did not have access to the administrators' personal financial records.

Results of a separate FBI investigation are expected to be disclosed soon, however, and the law enforcement agency would have access to such records.

The UCLA auditors said the school paid $6 million to the employment agencies over more than three years to provide temporary help to the radiological sciences department, which performs X-rays, bone scans, magnetic resonance imaging and other procedures for the UCLA Medical Center and--under a federal contract--for the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Medical Center.

The department, as is commonplace in hospitals, hires temporary employees--through outside agencies--to help out during peak periods or when regular employees are vacationing or out sick.

In announcing preliminary findings last year, officials said they had uncovered one case in which a man listed on an invoice as a radiologist was actually a dentist, and another was listed as a physician when he merely had a Ph.D. But the audit was unable to determine how much of the $6 million in billings may have been fraudulent.

The radiology department's former administrative officer, James G. Campbell, its former chief financial officer, Benny Chow, and Beverly Robinson, a buyer in UCLA's purchasing department, were dismissed last year, the audit said. And last week, two more managers in the department were placed on leave in anticipation of likely termination, UCLA Vice Chancellor Joseph D. Mandel said.

The disciplined employees could not be reached for comment over the weekend, although Campbell has acknowledged in the past being questioned by the FBI, which began its investigation in 1993 after being alerted by UCLA. The federal agency has jurisdiction in the case because of possible misuse of VA funds.

A copy of the audit, which was presented last week to the UC Board of Regents audit committee, paints a complicated picture of deception, pieced together through auditors' painstaking analysis of 2,000 invoices, employees' calendars and even the discovery of university computer files that one employee had allegedly attempted to erase.

To the relief of UCLA officials, the audit found no evidence that patient care was compromised. UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young also said he was gratified that UCLA's systems of checks and balances appeared to be working.

The billing irregularities came to light when, according to UCLA policy, the responsibility for approving contracts with temporary employment agencies was switched from one UCLA purchasing agent to another. The new agent quickly became suspicious.

"Although it distresses me . . . that human weakness inevitably leads to acts of dishonesty by the few misguided members of the UCLA community, I am gratified that our campus processes detected the wrongdoing," Young wrote in a letter to UC Senior Vice President V. Wayne Kennedy. "Between our actions and those of the federal prosecutors, I am hopeful that we will send a loud and clear message . . . that all of those who choose to engage in such behavior run a serious risk of detection."

A university statement said the audit found that Campbell, the former administrative officer, had "close business ties" to two agencies--Radiology Registry Agency Inc. and 21st Services Corp.--during the period he was directing payments to them.

Among the payments were nearly $300,000 for services allegedly rendered by Campbell's brother, Bruce, who was listed as a physician by the agency but was not licensed to practice medicine in California, the audit said.

The audit also found that, of the 25 names of people who were purported to be physicians by the agencies, three others were not licensed in California. In another instance, UCLA was billed for the services of a woman purported to be a nurse when she actually was a retired administrator, the audit said.

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