A new audit released Tuesday says the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services (PPP) misspent some state funds and did not find $325,000 in fraud for two years.
The Legislative Audit Council conducted the report at the request of state Sen. Mike Fair (R-Greenville). It looked into PPP, which is responsible for transitioning offenders back into public through probation and parole. The agency also helps victims of those offenders recoup any financial losses from their crimes.
The audit council’s director Perry Simpson said investigators looked into an extra $3.8 million the agency requested for additional staff in fiscal years 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 to help reduce overloaded caseworkers.
“We did not find an increase in staff,” Simpson told South Carolina Radio Network. “It appears to us that what happened is these funds were used to increase the agency’s cash reserves, as well as offset losses in federal and other funds.”
The report says data from the State Budget Office only shows a $366,000 increase spent on personnel in that span. In its response, the agency blames high turnover rates among its employees due to low pay and other problems. It notes that it made 92 new hires over that time frame, but lost 86 staffers.
The report also revealed more about what happened in the case of Crystal Bric, a former PPP resident who began fraudulently accessing one of the agency’s composite bank accounts in 2007. The audit found that the agency was not reconciling the account each month, which meant Bric eventually stole $325,000 over two years before she was caught.
“For two years this went on and then finally the State Auditor discovered the fraud in 2009,” Simpson said. “But it was two years and $325,000 too late.”
The audit says, when PPP officials found out about the fraud, they improperly used $20,000 in offender funds to help cover losses in the account. Those are funds earned by offenders that the agency monitors once they return to public life. Their earnings are only supposed to go towards victim restitution, fines or child support. In their response, the agency said it did not use the $20,000 to make up for the fraud, but transferred the money to clear the balance on its now-closed account.
PPP has now decided to turn over all of its accounts to the statewide network to prevent something like that from happening again, Simpson said.
The audit also said the agency improperly donated 20 computers to a Midlands-area church in 2010. The computers, which PPP considered surplus, were officially “loaned” to the unidentified church for job searches and resume writing by both offenders and members of the community. The audit states the agency did this after being told it could not directly donate the computers to the church.
However PPP made no effort to track the computers’ usage, and had no plans to get them back until after the audit revealed the loan. The audit states the loan violated the state’s procurement code. In its response, PPP said it did not intend to violate the code and says it will terminate the loan in July.
The report also questions some of the hiring practices used by PPP, most notably a requirement that potential hires submit a pre-employment photograph. “By including a photograph, it could create some problems in terms of potential bias… because it clearly shows the race and gender of that person,” Simpson said.
In its response, PPP said it has now begun removing candidate photos from hiring packets before the final approval is made on hiring the individual.
The agency’s current director Kela Thomas said she was “encouraged and pleased” that the audit revealed “nothing illegal” occurred under her watch. Thomas has led the agency under Gov. Nikki Haley since 2011. She was previously a deputy director at the agency in Gov. Mark Sanford’s administration.
“(PPP) is an organization that believes in continuous improvement and is committed to serving at the highest levels,” she wrote. “Audits like this allow us to identify areas in which we may improve.”