GILMAN — The Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department board has reviewed a forensic auditor's report that confirmed the agency's management committed several illegal acts using taxpayers' money, as first revealed through media investigations last year.
Among the findings in the eight-page report prepared by Bellevue, Wash.-based CliftonLarsonAllen LLP were the violation of bid procurement laws, the misuse of grant money, inaccurate budgeting and the revision of policies by management without the board's approval.
The board voted 7-0 in September to hire the certified public accounting firm to complete the forensic audit of the agency's finances for fiscal year 2012. The cost was estimated at $50,000 to $60,000.
Iroquois County Board Chairman Rod Copas, who also serves on the board of health, said at the time that "huge discrepancies" had been discovered in the agency's finances.
In the preceding months, independent investigations by the Paxton Record, a News-Gazette Community Newspaper, and Edgar County Watchdogs revealed that the health department disregarded its own procurement rules when it awarded a $127,000 contract to a company owned by the husband of a health department employee — and without the company submitting a public bid.
There was also the questionable legality of then-administrator Doug Corbett's plan to start a home-health care branch serving two neighboring counties in Indiana.
Documents obtained by the Edgar County Watchdogs also showed grant money was obtained to cover a portion of employees' salaries when those employees never did work related to the grant.
In their report, forensic auditors said all of those actions were improper, adding that they violated state law and/or the agency's by-laws.
Auditors also discovered some previously unknown details. Among them, Copas said at a health board earlier meeting this week, emails reviewed by auditors — but previously withheld from the media — showed Corbett awarded the $127,000 contract to CMS Renewables, owned by the husband of agency spokeswoman Julie Clark, weeks before the agency published a legal notice seeking bids.
"I think it's criminal. That's my opinion," Copas said.
Auditors also discovered that $101,823 in retirement benefits were erroneously charged to grant programs in fiscal year 2012, since those charges were already reimbursed to the health department through Ford and Iroquois counties' respective tax levies. And the auditors are sure that the same issue exists for fiscal year 2013, although they will not know the dollar amount until the firm completes the agency's annual audit later this year.
The health department's interim administrator, Steve Williams, said he plans to contact all granting agencies to see if any or all of the money must be repaid by the health department.
"There are substantial liabilities if they want it paid back," Copas said.
In their report, auditors said "the department's apparent lack of segregation of duties and trust and authority in only the director of the department contributed to an environment that allowed" the problems to go undiscovered.
Rural Paxton resident Joy Porter told the health board that the public deserves an apology.
"All I want to hear from some public official someday somewhere is, 'We're sorry. We should have done a better job. I'm sorry,'" Porter said.
"We are sorry," said the board of health's president, Dr. Kevin Brucker of Gibson City. "We've said that many times."