A crash course in business ethics may be in order for a Forest Hills-based special education services provider.
Bilinguals Inc., which operates as Achieve Beyond, has found itself in hot water after an audit by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s Office revealed nearly $900,000 in misappropriated funds over a three-year period from 2009 to 2011.
According to the audit, employee bonuses, rent for Bilinguals Executive Director Trudy Font-Padron’s Manhattan apartment and even spending on an employee’s funeral among other expenditures add up to $875,729 in taxpayer funds that were inappropriately spent by the company.
“Bilinguals, like other special education providers audited by my office, took advantage of lax oversight to cash in,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The State Education Department needs to recoup the money paid for these unwarranted charges and put in place more stringent standards to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure the parents and children who rely on special education programs get the funding they deserve.”
According to the audit, the private, for-profit company, which provides pediatric therapy services to children with autism in locations across the nation, distributed $218,682 in bonus payments that did not comply with state guidelines.
Additionally, the audit states Bilinguals claimed $243,950 for compensation for 17 individuals who did not work on the audited programs and $29,722 was claimed by the company for Font-Padron’s rent, cable and three cars.
DiNapoli’s office also noted that $279,552 was spent on recruiting employees who spoke English and Spanish from South America, including over $28,000 on travel for the recruits.
Only eight such people were hired, something the audit says wouldn’t require the full $279,552 as claimed.
When contacted by the Chronicle on Wednesday, a Bilinguals spokesperson forwarded a statement from the company, expressing its disappointment over the audit’s “inconsistent” findings.
“We are disappointed with the comptroller’s assessment, much of which is inconsistent with the reimbursement requirements outlined by the State Education Department,” the statement read. “Bilinguals has been providing critical therapeutic and educational services to children in need for almost 20 years and at all times worked diligently to comply with department requirements.”