HARTFORD, CT — The charitable organization in charge of distributing funds from the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Program has been unable to account for all the money it received after it took over the fund from the Office of the Victim Advocate.
An audit by the Auditors of Public Accounts found that the United Labor Agency — a charitable organization established by the Connecticut AFL-CIO — was only able to account for about $12,000 of the $116,000 it was given by the Office of Victim Advocate.
“The executive director told us that the ULA accounting system showed that the SHWAP fund has a balance of $103,712. However, we found that the ULA only had a cash balance of $16,088 as of June 30, 2018,” the state auditors wrote in their report. “Although the cash balance fluctuated based on the timing of the receipts and disbursements, it totaled only $41,977 as of September 30, 2018.”
The last request for funds from an individual affected by the Sandy Hook shooting was made on Oct. 1, 2018, and it was paid, according to the auditors.
Since taking over the fund in 2016, the ULA distributed $6,323 to five eligible recipients. It also charged $5,791 to cover administrative costs. The balance remaining in the account after making those payments should have been $103,712.
“First and foremost, the Connecticut AFL-CIO has put together the funds to make the Worker Assistance Program whole again,” Sal Luciano, president of the United Labor Agency, said in a statement. “Every dollar that should be in the fund -– all $103,712 –- is currently available to any worker who has been impacted by the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook.”
Following the audit, the board of the ULA met to establish a number of new financial protocols to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
“Even though the ULA was not required to separate the funds, we will follow the recommendations of the State Auditors to keep the money segregated from the rest of the budget. The board also created financial trustee positions to provide greater oversight of the organization’s financial practices and established several other steps to make sure ULA fulfills its fiduciary responsibilities,” Luciano said.
It’s unclear if criminal charges could follow.
The auditors report was requested by House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and Rep. Mitch Bolinksy, R-Newtown.
Klarides said after turning over this information in February to the Office of the Attorney General, who declined to take any action, they brought it to the Auditors of Public Accounts in September.
Attorney General William Tong said his office directed the charities division to negotiate a new agreement that resulted in a new memorandum of understanding to more accurately reflect donor and legislative intent. He said he will review the auditors’ report.
Klarides said the fact remains that the ULA did not argue the finding of the auditors and promised to put the money back.
“I don’t think Bernie Madoff had the opportunity to say he would put the money back,” she added.
She said the ULA’s announcement to pay it back “is not enough.”
Bolinsky said he was made aware of the missing money because two police officers were denied claims.
Eric Chester, an attorney for the ULA, said that’s not true and that’s not what the auditors’ report found.
Earlier this year, according to the auditors’ report, there were concerns raised about whether ULA was honoring the intent of the legislation. There was a claim the ULA was excluding first responders, but it wasn’t until a new MOU was executed on June 26, 2019, that restored the use of 25% of the funds to meet the ongoing needs of police departments and state troopers. At some point in 2015, the Newtown Police Union informed the Office of Victim Advocate that ‘it no longer wanted its portion of the funds,” according to the auditors.
The Office of the Victim Advocate never told the legislature it was transferring the remaining funds to the ULA. No one expected there to be any funds left in the account because they expected their to be more requests for funding.
The auditors said they were unable to find any evidence that claims for first responders were denied.
“We are not aware that ULA rejected any applicants,” the auditors, John Geragosian and Rob Kane, stated.
Bolinksy maintained Thursday that it wasn’t true.
“That finding is in the report. It is not true,” Bolinsky said.
He said the two people denied claims were police officers and “that’s all you’re going to get from any of us.” He said he didn’t want to taint the auditors’ report so he didn’t disclose that information to the two auditors.
“When we discovered the funds were missing, frankly we didn’t care where they got the funds,” Bolinsky said. “We only cared they were going to honor the request to fulfill the claim of these two first responders.”
Chester said the ULA board will be hiring an independent outside attorney to conduct a full investigation into how money from the fund was used and as soon as the results of that investigation are completed, the board will make a determination on necessary disciplinary action.
“To be clear, as the State Auditors verified, no worker, whether they were union or non-union, was denied benefits through this program,” Luciano siad. “Everyone that needed assistance from this fund received it promptly to get the help they needed in dealing with this tragedy. The ULA is committed to continuing to serve all workers in the state with job training, workers compensation, emergency food pantry services, and counseling.”