LAWRENCE — The region’s largest anti-poverty agency yesterday agreed to pay nearly $100,000 in fines and legal fees to settle allegations it used federal grants to pay four top employees — including its former executive director — while they played poker at an Elks Club, golfed and worked elsewhere while on the agency’s clock.
The Greater Lawrence Community Action Council also agreed not to dispute the allegations outlined in the settlement, whose seeds were planted by a series of Eagle-Tribune stories two years ago alleging fraud, mismanagement and nepotism at the agency and by a whistle blower’s lawsuit that followed.
The settlement with U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz also leaves open the possibility that Ortiz can pursue criminal charges against GLCAC employees suspected of wrongdoing, although a spokeswoman for Ortiz yesterday would not say whether the agency would.
The federal complaint that led to the settlement alleged that the wrongdoing at GLCAC went further than what the newspaper uncovered in its series of stories beginning in March 2011, by contending that the acting executive director who was brought in to clean up the mess had a management style that made him part of the problem. The newspaper series led to the resignations of former Executive Director Philip Laverriere and his top deputy, Charles Lopiano, and more than half the members of its board of directors, which now has 19 members.
Among the new revelations, Ortiz alleged that GLCAC used state and federal grants earmarked for the Methuen Even Start program, which provides social services to poor families, to buy Red Sox tickets for employees and to send them to amusement parks, arcades, golf tournaments and whale watches.
“Agencies receiving taxpayers’ dollars are expected to have a sense of integrity and to utilize funds for the actual purposes for which they are intended,” Ortiz said in announcing the settlement. “Communities suffer when funds are used inappropriately to subsidize employee moonlighting or recreational activities.”