Financial aid abuse at Bishop State Community College has led state examiners to expand the scope of their audits, but such problems have not been found at other schools so far, an examiner told system presidents Tuesday.
A February examiners report on Bishop State found more than $400,000 in questioned costs at the Mobile school. More than 25 employees including the school’s financial aid director and their relatives have been charged with theft and are suspected of getting federal aid fraudulently.
Larry Williard, who oversees the system’s audits for the Examiners of Public Accounts, said the Bishop State case has caused auditors to begin running searches using employees’ social security numbers at all schools to see if they are receiving federal funds. No other cases have been found, he said.
“A lot of that was caused by a few employees,” he said of the Bishop State situation. “And just because you’re an employee who’s receiving financial aid doesn’t mean something improper is going on.”
Williard gave his report to about 30 community college presidents and school administrators at their fall meeting, saying 33 post-secondary audits were done at the system’s community, technical and senior colleges along with its consortiums, reserve and industrial training center.
He said there were no problems found at 19 entities and several had just between one and three findings.
“That means 70 percent of the system had none or one findings,” Williard said. “Some of (the findings) are real important and some of them I just want to discuss because I see a chance of you getting written up … and I don’t want to see that.”
The two-year system has been under mounting scrutiny during an ongoing state and federal investigation into nepotism and corruption. Several presidents have resigned or retired after problems were found at their schools and the state board of education has approved new nepotism and “double dipping” employment policies.
The presidents and officials spent more than an hour with Williard, asking questions about specific scenarios at their schools and clarification in several areas including cell phone use and bidding for sole-source contracts.
Ingram State Technical College President J. Douglas Chambers said he’d like to see uniform system rules for things like the use of college cell phones so each president wouldn’t be left to their own interpretations.
“There are a lot of state regulations that we are governed by and there are a lot of gray areas,” he said following the meeting. “There’s room for you to use common sense, but it’s sometimes in using common sense when you hear things popping up.”
Williard urged the presidents to make sure background checks are done on all employees and cautioned against giving them too much trust. He also warned not to “judge books by their cover,” pointing out that most white collar crimes are committed by middle-aged white females and they don’t have tattoos, he said.
“Don’t depend on examiners. Examiners don’t catch everything,” he said. “I’m not saying check every day, I’m not saying check it every month. If we don’t have good controls and we’re not checking, they’re going to take advantage of us.”
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