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L.A. County D.A. considers criminal charges against foster agency

Jackie Lacey is weighing whether charges should be filed against Teens Happy Homes, a contractor with a long history of financial improprieties and instances of child abuse, a spokeswoman says.

June 07, 2013|By Garrett Therolf, Los Angeles Times
  • Teens Happy Homes foster care agency on Western Avenue.
Teens Happy Homes foster care agency on Western Avenue. (Robert Gauthier, Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey is considering whether criminal charges should be filed against officials at Teens Happy Homes, a foster care contractor with a long history of financial improprieties and substantiated instances of child abuse, according to spokeswoman Jane Robison.

The review by prosecutors in the department's Public Integrity Division follows a recent examination in The Times detailing allegations of financial misconduct involving evidence that employees may have used taxpayer money intended for abused children for their own personal gain.

"We've read the press reports and we've heard the allegations," said Max Huntsman, the unit's second highest-ranking prosecutor. "We're going to carefully examine what happened or didn't happen."

Huntsman said he did not know how long his office might review the matter before deciding whether to file charges.

"When you start looking, you never know what you are going to see or not see," he said.

Teens Happy Homes has hired criminal defense attorney Anthony Willoughby, a former candidate for state Assembly who has previously represented defendants accused of official misconduct. Willoughby and Teens chief executive Beautina Robinson did not return calls seeking comment.

The contractor has received up to $3.6 million annually from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to recruit, supervise and pay foster parents to take in abused children. Between 2008 and 2011, 1,154 children lived in its homes.

Supervisors Gloria Molina and Michael D. Antonovich have pushed to sever ties with the contractor, but they have so far failed to win majority support on the five-member board. Another vote is scheduled for Tuesday.

The Times reported in April that a former high-ranking official at Teens, Askari Moyenda, said he and his wife were required to pay "bribes" to obtain jobs with the contractor.

In exchange for $70,000 and the promise to follow with $69,000 more, Moyenda and his wife were made the contractor's quality assurance officer and top program administrator, he said.

Robinson has previously told The Times that the money was a "donation."

Moyenda and his wife were later dismissed by Teens and filed a civil suit alleging breach of contract. In a deposition, Robinson was asked if it was legal to also promise control of the nonprofit charity in exchange for the money.

"Yeah," she replied.

Moyenda said that nearly $10,000 of his "bribe" went to Robinson personally.

In the deposition, Robinson said "I don't recall" when asked if she received any the money in her personal account.

The lawsuit was recently dismissed after Moyenda failed to meet a filing deadline.

Separately, county auditors recently uncovered at least $100,000 in suspect payments: Nearly $30,000 went toward Robinson's personal expenses, including her car and credit card bills. An additional $70,000 covered the salaries of Robinson associates who did little or no work for the agency.

Meanwhile, 240 allegations of abuse or neglect were filed on behalf of youths at Teens homes over a recent three-year period, a Times analysis of child abuse hot line data found.

Teens' rate of nearly two allegations for each home was more than two times the average for the state.

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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