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Audit request denied



Published: Sat, August 25, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Judge Cronin said she was just trying to be a responsible steward of tax dollars.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Community Corrections Association won't have to open its books for scrutiny by the Ohio Auditor's Office.

An audit done earlier in the year by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction was enough and won't be duplicated, said Thomas Prendergast of the auditor's office.

"I was just trying to be a good watchdog of the taxpayers' money," said Administrative Judge Maureen A. Cronin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, explaining why she suggested that judges seek the second audit. "If the state feels there is no need for a further look, so be it."

The ODRC was asked earlier this year to investigate whether CCA used public money to pay legal expenses for Dr. Richard J. Billak, CCA chief executive officer. The audit was requested by both Billak and common pleas judges.

Concern: Judges were concerned that CCA, which serves as the county's probation agency, used public grants to pay legal fees in a lawsuit Billak and CCA have pending against former county sheriff Phil Chance. Billak denied any wrongdoing and simultaneously sought the audit to clear his name.

The audit concluded that CCA twice used state funding from its halfway house account to pay legal fees for the suit, which may not have been legal. But those two expenditures were subsequently removed from the halfway house account and charged to a corporate account, which is permissible.

The corporate account is made up of nonpublic funds from sources such as interest on cash reserves, income from CCA's graphics department and an annual fund-raiser. The halfway house account receives about 80 percent of its revenue from the ODRC, with the rest coming from private sources.

Since the halfway house account is not totally funded by state money, there was no problem using it to pay part of the legal fees, the ODRC report said.

And because of the transfer, no legal fees for the lawsuit were paid from state grant funds, the report said.

Views: Judge Cronin said the ODRC audit covered only one of CCA's four accounts, and she wanted the state auditor to delve into the agency's complete books.

But Prendergast said the state is leery of delving into the financial records of a private agency like CCA, even though it receives public funding and does business with public agencies.

Billak said he's pleased with the state's decision and hopes it puts and end to accusations of wrongdoing by CCA.

"Hopefully the judge is satisfied," he said. "Obviously if the state is satisfied, she should be."

bjackson@vindy.com




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