Authorities Investigating Fraud In Home Accessibility Program

Jul 15, 2014

The Vermont State Police and the attorney general’s office are investigating “an alleged misdirection of funds” at the Vermont Center for Independent Living, according to one of the center’s funders.

Gus Seelig, the executive director of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, said a former VCIL employee allegedly misappropriated funds that were intended to be used for the center’s program that funds home accessibility renovations.

“VCIL has identified, I think, three or four jobs that are, I think, not complete to their satisfaction and perhaps significantly less than complete,” Seelig said. In total, about $45,000 was appropriated for the jobs, he said.

The renovations were part of VCIL’s program that funds home modifications to improve accessibility, such as wheelchair ramps and roll-in showers. The center’s executive director, Sarah Launderville, said VCIL is cooperating with authorities but would not specify which authorities are involved with the investigation.

Vermont State Police spokeswoman Stephanie Dasaro said in an email that “Vermont State Police are aware of a complaint from the VT Center for Independent Living; and law enforcement jurisdiction is in the process of being determined.”

Assistant Attorney General John Treadwell, the chief of the AG's criminal division, would neither confirm nor deny an AG investigation into the allegations.

The accessibility modifications typically cost $15,000 or less, according to Seelig of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. The board is a state entity that administers funding for a variety of housing and conservation project using both federal and state money. Launderville said it is the primary source of funding to the Vermont Center for Independent Living's Home Access Program.

The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board has called a special board meeting to consider a new VCIL funding request. In the last round of funding, Seelig said, the board decided not to grant money to VCIL until it completed a report detailing the extent of the problems and steps taken to repair systems that may have failed in this case.

“Everybody’s trying to do their due diligence to make sure there’s systems in place so that this won’t happen in the future,” Seelig said.

A routine independent audit of VCIL last fall "did not identify any deficiencies in internal control that we consider to be material weaknesses," according to the audit report. However, the auditor notes that the purpose of the audit was not to identify issues with internal controls, but to look into the finances of the organization. The audit report notes that "material weaknesses [in internal controls] may exist that have not been identified."

Officials refused to name the former employee in question.

The VCIL program funds about 45 to 50 home renovation projects annually, Launderville said, and is still taking applications for renovation assistance despite some uncertainty about future funding from the housing and conservation board.

“We still have some money left,” Launderville said. VCIL also works with grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Vermont Department for Aging and Independent Living.

Updated 7/15 at 3:50 p.m. to specify the VHCB is the primary source of funding for VCIL's Home Access Program.