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Audit: End Job-Training Program

Report alleges overbilling by the private center, which denies county's findings.

February 16, 2004|Hector Becerra | Times Staff Writer

A $550,000 job-training program that allegedly billed Los Angeles County for services it never provided should be terminated, according to a continuing audit of social service programs.

The privately run Economic and Employment Development Center, with offices in Alhambra, Sherman Oaks and Glendale, was audited as part of an investigation into misuse of taxpayer funds by contractors of the Department of Community and Senior Services.

The center provides job training to Vietnamese-, Chinese-, Russian- and Armenian-speaking refugees and immigrants trying to get off welfare.

The auditors found, among other problems, that the contractors had billed the county for placing welfare recipients in full-time jobs when they were already working full-time, and had charged for finding full-time jobs for participants who were still working part-time.

Some participants, who are all in the CalWORKs welfare-to-work program, did not receive training and other services in their primary language, the audit said.

The audit also found that five of the center's seven case managers were not qualified for their jobs. All told, the center overbilled the county $2,500, according to the audit.

In a written response to the county, EEDC's executive director disputed the audit's conclusions.

"The recommendation to terminate our contract after the many excellent reviews by the county appears to be extreme and inappropriate," Phuc T. Thai said.

"EEDC stands by our billings, will take responsibility for any clerical errors on our part and vehemently denies any mischaracterization of impropriety on the part of our agency."

The center is the first of about a dozen contractors under the Refugee-Immigrant Training and Employment program to be ordered audited by county supervisors, said county Auditor-Controller Tyler McCauley. The program contracts with the Department of Community and Senior Services.

The audits were spurred by past criminal prosecutions of two program contractors, including one organization that allegedly bilked the county out of $2.4 million, McCauley said.

The audit of EEDC did not recommend prosecution.

"At the end of the day, we think they should be put out of business, not referred to the district attorney," McCauley said.

The county plans to audit eight programs -- including Refugee-Immigrant Training and Employment -- with ties to the county's senior services, welfare, children and mental health departments, he said.

"We fully expect to find that some are doing just fine, and we fully expect to find that some are not," McCauley said.

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