The Investigations Section within the OIG is responsible for the detection and investigation of fraud, waste, and abuse within AmeriCorps programs and operations. Special Agents conduct various criminal, civil, and administrative investigations. Some of our criminal investigations are conducted in conjunction with other federal, state or local law enforcement agencies. Criminal investigations are presented to the U.S. Attorney and, in some cases, the local prosecutor, for criminal prosecution and/or civil recovery.
The Investigations Section also conducts fraud awareness briefings and provides a pamphlet entitled "OIG Investigations and You" which discusses AmeriCorps employees rights and responsibilities regarding investigations. Also, See;
The Investigations Section also maintains the Fraud Hotline which can be used to report fraud, waste and abuse involving AmeriCorps programs and operations.
Investigation of Misappropriation Uncovers Unallowable Expenses and Other Violations of Grant Provisions
A Hotline complaint alleged that the director of an AmeriCorps program in Iowa misappropriated program funds to purchase groceries for her personal use. The director could not provide a consistent explanation of her use of the program’s credit card. She was required to reimburse the costs and was terminated. The grantee, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, violated the grant provisions by failing to notify CNCS-OIG or CNCS officials of the fraud allegations and conducting its own internal investigation.
In the course of this investigation, CNCS-OIG also found that the grantee had claimed improper costs as part of its match. CNCS management therefore disallowed $10,847.57 of match costs claimed for mileage reimbursement, health care premiums and supplies. The grantee was required to substitute allowable match expenses and adjusted its financial reports accordingly.
Case ID: 2015-018
Grant Lost Because Grantee Failed to Perform Criminal History Checks, Altered Documents and Made False Certifications
A joint investigation with PennSERVE: The Governor’s Office of Citizen Service, Harrisburg, PA, found that Communities in Schools of Pennsylvania (CISPA), Harrisburg, PA, failed to conduct critical criminal history checks (CHCs) and falsely certified to CNCS that it was in compliance with all CHC requirements during a Corporation-wide assessment and amnesty. PennSERVE identified irregularities during a fiscal review, in which the reviewers also had difficulty verifying CISPA’s direct expenses and match costs. The grantee thereafter altered documents to falsely create the appearance that it had conducted thorough and timely CHCs. As a result, PennSERVE disallowed a total of $49,926.39, two-thirds of which related to CHC failures, and declined to renew the grant.
Case ID: 2015-026
Service Outside the Scope of Grant Leads to Disallowance of Grant Funds
A compliance review discovered that grantee Mid-Delta Community Consortium (MDCC), West Helena, AR, assigned AmeriCorps members a variety of tasks that were beyond the scope of its grant from the Arkansas Service Commission. The grant was intended to assist economically disadvantaged residents in the Mid-Delta region in completing applications for prescription drug assistance. Instead, members were assigned to serve in youth programs, a battered women’s shelter, food banks, farmers market/community gardens and a women’s prison. Members also performed a variety of administrative functions, and one member displaced an employee by regularly substituting for a teacher during the lunch hour at a local center for disabled adults. Another member who served vulnerable populations — school-age children and senior citizens — was allowed to serve for nine months with an incomplete National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) check.
As a result of the investigation, the Commission disallowed $89,589 in living allowances for members who served outside the scope of the grant. CNCS management established a separate debt of $47,793 against MDCC to recoup improperly certified education awards and levied a penalty of $500 for allowing a member to serve vulnerable populations for nine months without a completed NSOPW check.
Case ID: 2015-027
Senior Corps Tribal Grantee Misused Program Funds and Volunteers, Failed to Check Criminal Histories
Alerted to allegations that Senior Corps grantee Great Lake Inter-Tribal Council, Lac du Flambeau, WI, misused program funds, CNCS-OIG investigators conducted a review in conjunction with an agency grant officer and a program officer. This joint review found that the grantee had abused the funds awarded by CNCS in multiple ways. Most significantly, the grantee incurred more than $90,000 for recognition items and entertainment, purchasing a variety of clothing, small appliances, housewares and other merchandise for volunteers. “Recognition” refers to items and events to celebrate the contributions of volunteers to the community, such as special ceremonies, teas, breakfasts, luncheons and items of nominal value, such as pins and certificates. Here, the nature of the items and the amounts spent were excessive and unreasonable.
The grantee also failed to conduct complete, timely checks of the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) for 23 volunteers, allowed certain volunteers to perform service activities outside the scope of the grant and charged the grant for a large quantity of office supplies purchased one day before the grant year ended.
CNCS disallowed at total of $111,468.15, as a result of the investigation: $75,387.85 for excessive recognition costs; $18,820.30 for service that exceeded the scope of the grant; $14,750 for late or missing NSOPW checks; and $2,510 for office supplies not properly chargeable to the grant. After providing technical assistance to help the grantee understand and comply with its obligations under the grant, CNCS concluded that the grantee was unable to meet its financial management and other responsibilities and therefore denied continued funding.
Case ID: 2016-005
Registered Sex Offender Terminated from AmeriCorps Service after Background Check
CNCS management asked CNCS-OIG to investigate an AmeriCorps member serving at the Nevada Clean Energy Corps, Carson City, NV, who was suspended after a completed criminal history check revealed him to be a registered sex offender. The member had disclosed in his application that he had twice been arrested for Open and Gross Lewdness, but denied that he was a registered sex offender. The individual was not listed as a sex offender on the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW), which the grantee had checked before the member began his service. Only the grantee’s subsequent search of Nevada’s criminal history repository revealed that the member was a registered sex offender in Nevada. Completion of both parts of the required criminal history check enabled the grantee to remove the member from service. CNCS disallowed $3,141.26, the living allowance paid to the member prior to his termination.
Nevada, like many states, requires individuals convicted of certain low-level sex offenses to register, but it does not permit disclosure of those offenses to the NSOPW. However, CNCS’s authorizing statute makes all registered and registerable sex offenders ineligible, regardless of the nature or seriousness of their conduct. This case illustrates the importance of completing not only the NSOPW check but also a check of the state repository and/or an FBI fingerprint-based check. CNCS-OIG believes that grantees are well advised to conduct an FBI fingerprint-based check of all members and grant-funded staff; otherwise, a grantee may unknowingly enroll individuals who have been convicted of sex offenses in other states, but who are not listed in the NSOPW.
Case ID: 2016-016
Senior Corps Grantee Incurs Sanction Totaling $400,000 for Incomplete or Untimely Criminal History Checks
Our most recent previous Semiannual Report 16-01, we described CNCS-OIG’s finding that Elder Care Services, Tallahassee, FL (ECS), allowed a majority of its volunteers to serve without a properly completed check of the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW). As our investigation covered a limited sampling, CNCS-OIG recommended that CNCS review additional volunteer files for defective NSOPW checks. As expected, CNCS found substantial additional noncompliance with criminal history checking requirements. CNCS therefore disallowed an additional $370,500, bringing the total of disallowed costs to $400,000. On September 7, 2016, CNCS management issued a debt collection against ECS for the disallowed costs.
Case ID: 2015-010
Allegations of Abortion-Related Prohibited Activity (Unfounded)
An AmeriCorps member serving as a tutor did not provide prohibited abortion services or a prohibited referral when she transported one of her students to an abortion clinic, because the conduct took place on her personal time. As a result, no AmeriCorps resources were implicated. The grantee terminated the member for violating a policy that barred members from interacting with students outside their AmeriCorps service. The matter came to CNCS’s attention because the grantee reported it.
Case ID: 2016-022
Allegations of Prohibited Activity – Using Federal Funds for Needle Exchange Program (Unfounded)
An AmeriCorps member reported allegations that a New Mexico AmeriCorps grantee required members’ to engage in prohibited activities by participating in a syringe exchange program.
Investigation disclosed that the Consolidated Appropriation Act of 2016, authorized Federal funds to be used to support of the Syringe Service programs. There was no evidence that AmeriCorps members engaged in prohibited activity when they supported the syringe exchange program. The member also alleged attendance discrepancies and his dissatisfaction about program’s management. These allegations were forwarded to CNCS management for follow-up during their oversight of the program.
Case ID: 2016-025
Major AmeriCorps Grantee Allowed Members to Provide Abortion-Related Services Prohibited by Law; CNCS Management Undertakes Robust Actions in Response
Between 2013 and 2015, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), Bethesda, MD, allowed a few AmeriCorps members to provide emotional support (doula care) to women during abortion procedures at three New York City clinics operated by the Institute for Family Health (IFH), a subgrantee. The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (the Serve America Act), the Federal statute authorizing the AmeriCorps program expressly prohibits the use of AmeriCorps resources to “provid[e] abortion services or referrals for receipt of such services.” See 42 U.S.C. §12584a(a)(9). The same prohibition appears in the regulations governing the AmeriCorps program. See 45 C.F.R. §2520.65(a)(10). NACHC is one of
AmeriCorps’ largest grantees, receiving $ 30 million over the last five years. The organization also receives support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is aware of this investigation.
Investigators discovered that NACHC had disregarded the direction of CNCS’s General Counsel in 2010 to include in its training materials and member agreements the abortion prohibition precisely as stated in the Serve America Act. Instead, NACHC adopted a narrower restriction: “Providing or promoting abortions; Providing a direct referral for an abortion. A referral consists of a name, address, telephone number, and other relevant factual information, such as what insurance is accepted.” The grantee continued to deviate from the prescribed language even after a 2011 Congressional hearing following CNCS’s disclosure that two other grantees had committed abortion‐related prohibited activities. CNCS thereafter communicated repeatedly with all grantees about the need for scrupulous compliance with the prohibitions laid out by Congress.
Nevertheless, in 2013, only two years after those much publicized events, NACHC’s former National Director chose to authorize AmeriCorps members at IFH to provide doula care during abortions, without informing CNCS or inquiring whether those services were permissible. IFH relied on that authorization.
CNCS‐OIG also learned that NACHC failed to follow up on, and report to CNCS, allegations that AmeriCorps members at this same subgrantee were tasked to perform work ordinarily performed by employees, a further violation of the Serve America Act and CNCS’s regulations. When these allegations surfaced during NACHC’s monitoring, NACHC did not interview the affected members or conduct its own inquiry, but simply accepted on the subgrantee’s unsupported assertion that the members undertook the staff tasks on their own initiative. NACHC did not quantify or disallow the hours, nor did it notify CNCS. Finally, multiple staff members told investigators that they had reported various instances of waste, fraud
and abuse to NACHC’s senior management, which chose not to inform CNCS, despite its obligation to do so under the grant terms and conditions.
Investigators concluded that the tone at the top of NACHC, a key feature of the control environment, discouraged transparency and the reporting of negative information.
The investigative findings reflect a lack of institutional control, oversight and good faith dealing in NACHC’s administration of this substantial grant: a pattern of ineffective subgrantee management; inadequate internal controls to recognize, prevent, detect and remedy instances of non‐compliance; inadequate supervision, monitoring and support of subgrantees and host sites; ineffective follow‐up on reports of problems and allegations of misconduct; and other similar mismanagement.
Upon learning from NACHC’s current National Director of members’ participation in abortion services, CNCS immediately requested that CNCS‐OIG investigate. Pending completion of the investigation, the Corporation immediately took interim steps to protect the integrity of the AmeriCorps program, including:
* CNCS suspended advance drawdowns on the grants, instead allowing only reimbursement of incurred expenses;
* CEO Wendy Spencer contacted NACHC’s AmeriCorps National Director to emphasize the
seriousness of the allegations and the importance of prompt and full cooperation with the CNCS‐OIG investigation;
* CNCS required NACHC to disallow the hours devoted to the prohibited activities, suspend the members involved, issue new guidance and conduct new training for members and site
supervisors regarding prohibited activities, and revise and reissue every member’s service
contract to include more precise language concerning the scope of the abortion prohibition.
Upon completion of the investigation, CNCS and AmeriCorps leadership recognized that extraordinary measures would be required to restore confidence in NACHC’s ability to manage the substantial Federal funds entrusted to them. In lieu of terminating the grant, CNCS took the following additional actions:
* Forbidding NACHC to enroll new members on its current grant;
* Requiring NACHC to engage, at its own expense, an independent oversight monitor with plenary access to information and broad authority to determine and report periodically to CNCS whether any prohibited activities have occurred, a measure unprecedented at CNCS;
* Requiring NACHC to designate an Ombudsperson to develop a policy on transparency,
investigation of misconduct allegations and reporting and serve as an channel for reporting such allegations and ensuring that they are addressed; and
* Requiring NACHC to task an experienced AmeriCorps administrator to increase substantially NACHC’s monitoring of its AmeriCorps grants and communications with subgrantees and members.
CNCS also made clear that NACHC’s willingness to implement these reforms would be factored into any decision about whether to renew NACHC’s grant in the pending grant competition. Although NACHC disputes certain of the investigative findings and characterizations, it has agreed to adopt the reforms specified by CNCS.
Case ID: 2016‐003
Agency Employee Terminated for False Statement and Timesheet Fraud
CNCS Management reported a CNCS employee may have submitted fraudulent timesheets when she claimed hours not worked. CNCS-OIG investigators uncovered evidence the CNCS employee did submit fraudulent timesheets between July 2014 and February 2015 for hours the employee arrived late or departed early from work. Additionally, it was determined that the employee submitted a false Declaration of Federal Employment form when she was untruthful regarding the circumstance of her departure from her previous Federal employer.
CNCS Management terminated the employee and sought restitution of the $772.96 for the hours not worked.
Case ID: 2015-008
Grandmother and Granddaughter Debarred for Theft of Funds
An anonymous hotline complainant alleged an AmeriCorps site supervisor for a Maryland grantee allowed an AmeriCorps member who was also a relative to receive her living allowance without having to serve the required service hours. CNCS-OIG investigators determined the AmeriCorps site supervisor conspired to falsified timesheets with her granddaughter who had been enrolled as an AmeriCorps member. After the granddaughter obtained employment and stopped serving at the service site the two continued to submit fraudulent timesheets which allowed the granddaughter to continue to receive $2,464 in living allowances to which she was not entitled.
After the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined criminal prosecution, CNCS Management recovered the $2,464 in living allowance and debarred the two individuals for a period of one year.
Case ID: 2015-007
Allegations of Misconduct against CNCS Employee (Unfounded)
A hotline complainant alleged a CNCS manager misused their position when the manager was intimidated and influenced by a grantee to remove the complainant, a CNCS employee, from oversight of the grantee.
CNCS-OIG investigators found that the manager had removed the grantee from the employee’s portfolio, but found no evidence to substantiate the allegation.
Case ID: 2015-025
Displacement by AmeriCorps Member Leads to Disallowed Service Hours
A hotline complainant alleged VISTA and AmeriCorps members assigned to serve at a West Virginia grantee site displaced staff employees based on the service they performed.
CNCS West Virginia State Office personnel reported that the VISTA member serving the grantee’s site served within the scope of the VISTA Summer Associate position funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture summer food program. Officials from the West Virginia Commission (Commission) determined that one of the AmeriCorps members assigned to the AmeriCorps grant had performed services as staff when the member served as a cook. The Commission disallowed 100.5 service hours for that current term member and the member was required make up the hours in order to receive their education award.
Case ID: 2015-029
Commission Employee Violates Conflict of Interest Policy
CNCS-OIG investigators received information from CNCS Management that a Nevada Commission employee may have financially gained from the AmeriCorps sub-grantee when the employee accepted item(s) from the sub-grantee for the employee’s privately own business.
CNCS-OIG investigators discovered that a commission employee violated the commission’s conflict of interest policy when the employee received a small item from the sub-grantee for his personal business. The commission’s executive director reported that although the employee had reported his personal relationship with the sub-grantee, the employee failed to inform the executive director she received the item from the sub-grantee, as required by their conflict of interest policy.
The individual was counselled and received a written letter of understanding concerning conflicts of interest.
Case ID: 2016-002
Foster Grandparent Program (FGP) Volunteer Removed from Service after Allegations of Sexual Assault on a Minor
An investigation was initiated based on information received by CNCS Management that an FGP volunteer was arrested by the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office (LCSD), Cheyenne, WY, for allegedly touching a child inappropriately.
Preliminary investigation by the LCSD disclosed that the FGP volunteer was alleged to have met the individual through his FGP volunteer services several years ago; however, there was no evidence that the incident(s) took place while the FGP volunteer was serving as a FGP. This matter has been referred to the local prosecutor by the LCSD.
CNCS-OIG reviewed the grantee’s criminal background check and sexual offender checks procedures and found the grantee had followed the required procedures when the FGP volunteer began their service.
Case ID: 2015-030