DCFS investigating Casa Guanajuato

MOLINE — The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is investigating the records of Casa Guanajuato after four employees questioned the agency’s billing and management practices. 

“The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has been made aware of the allegations involving Casa Guanajuato,” agency spokesman Karen Hawkins wrote in a statement. “DCFS takes these allegations seriously and is conducting an internal review.

“On Monday, Feb. 3, a team began an onsite investigation of the allegations and review of records,” she said. “Due to the pending nature of that review, it would be premature to comment further.” 

Casa’s executive director Michael Woods and its board president, Jamie Reyes, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. 

Casa has a $200,000 contract with DCFS to provide counseling, therapy and other services to strengthen and protect families and children. Casa must submit billable hours to  DCFS, then is reimbursed, according to Casa’s contract with the state. 

In a Jan. 31 story, four Casa employees — Alicia Gomez, a bilingual family therapist; Glendy Aponte, a bilingual family counselor; Laura Huicochea, a family advocate; and Rosario Martinez, family advocate — said they contacted Casa’s Board President Jaime Reyes in mid-November.

They said they reported various concerns, including Casa billing DCFS for services never performed, double billing for others and lost confidential client files. They also said they reported unrealistic workloads, nepotism and an intimidating work environment. 

The employees requested Mr. Woods be terminated or allowed to resign.

Ms. Gomez also requested an external audit of Casa’s finances by an independent outside accounting agency, as she said she believes DCFS monies were misappropriated. She said she reported to Mr. Reyes that Casa submitted 27 billing hours under her name to DCFS in July and August 2013 for services she did not deliver. 

Ms. Gomez said she made a formal complaint with the U.S. Inspector General for Health and Human Services after Casa’s board took no formal action against Mr. Woods. She said she is happy DCFS is investigating.

“These are concerns that myself and others have, and they should be thoroughly looked into and taken seriously,” she said. “These are not claims to be taken lightly.” 

Ms. Gomez said DCFS is pulling client files and looking at billable hours and other financial information.

“They are breaking it down and asking us questions of where we believe the double dipping has occurred,” she said. “They are talking to every one of us, one-on-one, they way an investigation should be conducted.” 

Ms. Hawkins said DCFS annually monitors contracts, including a check of billing versus records. Casa’s annual onsite visit was scheduled for March, but has been moved up to February. The DCFS team doing the review was sent from the Chicago office — not the regional office in Springfield — and includes the head of the division, Ms. Hawkins said.

It is unknown when the investigation will be complete. Ms. Hawkins said billing discrepancies can be handled various ways depending on the circumstances. An agency may be required to reimburse DCFS or develop a corrective action plan to prevent the situation from happening again.



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