Below is an article from the Gloucester County Times on the embezzlement at Tri-County Community Action Agency. As we have noted, this agency, headed by Al Kelly, has benefited greatly from Lou’s largesse. In turn, when Lou needs a crowd of people to turn out for him, he can rely on Al to rally the troops to attend meetings and no doubt to go to the polls as well. The interesting thing is that the Gloucester paper thought the theft significant enough to publish an opinion piece. Yet the Cumberland News, reporting the embezzlement, buried the name of the agency deep in a short article. Tri-County wasn’t even mentioned in the headlines. Makes one wonder, what gives?
HEAP of trouble requires reformFriday, August 21, 2009
Talk about an energy drain.
In recent days, prosecutors have identified $424,000 in home energy assistance money lost through fraud and theft at Tri-County Community Action Inc., an anti-poverty agency serving Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland counties.
The “action” that Tri-County office manager Constance Campbell is alleged to have engaged in is not exactly what lawmakers had in mind when they drafted the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). Campbell, 23, who is Tri-County’s HEAP manager, was indicted Monday on charges of using her position to falsify heating assistance applications for herself and five relatives who got $24,086 intended for low-income clients, including $15,012 in state checks meant to purchase heating oil. The Campbell family traded the checks for cash, prosecutors say, from Woolwich heating oil supplier Thomas J. Harris.
If these numbers look small in the larger context of New Jersey corruption, consider that Harris pleaded guilty last week to stealing $400,000 in HEAP funds in little over a year.
Harris tempted low-income residents with instant money by delivering cash (a reduced percentage of the voucher amount) instead of oil. This exploited a worthy and vital program but one that is obviously vulnerable to fraud.
Harris and the potential felons are merely the ones who got caught. If such blatant theft can happen at just one office administering just one program, how much more of this stuff is going on statewide?
Tri-County’s Web site says it administers more than 50 state and federal programs. “Need Child Care Information?” says the site, “Click here.” Or, “For “Poverty Symposium reports, click here.” If public money is being misappropriated so audaciously, all taxpayers could soon be the subject of poverty symposiums, too.
At least 90 percent of federal funds received in Community Service Block Grants are flushed by the state Department of Community Affairs through 26 local agencies like Tri-County, in addition to state Department of Human Services personnel. No wonder economists attribute not only waste and fraud, but our entire culture of corruption, to the extraordinary number of hands touching public money in New Jersey.