LAWRENCE — A team of state investigators descended on the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council last week to interview dozens of board members and employees.
The investigators also collected cartons of time sheets, tax records, credit card receipts and other documents in a widening investigation into the agency.
The state Department of Housing and Community Development opened the investigation after The Eagle-Tribune reported March 20 that for at least the last three years, former GLCAC Executive Director Philip Laverriere had been spending much of his work day playing cards and video poker at the local Elks club, while making up to $147,000 a year in salary, bonuses and other compensation.
Laverriere resigned March 23.
Laverriere could not be reached Friday to determine if he had been questioned by investigators. His lawyer, Robert O'Sullivan, did not return a phone call.
Kimberly Haberlin, a spokeswoman for the state department that oversees the 24 community action programs in Massachusetts, declined to answer questions about the investigation, but suggested in a brief statement emailed to the newspaper that the federal government has joined it. The state and federal governments provide $29 million of the $30 million that GLCAC spends annually.
"We are committed to addressing the leadership and management issues facing the GLCAC and ensuring services are administered without interruption, and have been working alongside state and federal offices, our legislative partners and the (GLCAC) board with those goals in mind," Haberlin said in the email. "The review team, which consists of representatives from DHCD and Northeast Institute for Quality Community Action, was on site this week. We will now begin the process of thoroughly reviewing their observations and recommendations in order to complete a comprehensive report this month."
The Northeast Institute for Quality Community Action is a private agency based in Boston that specializes in overhauling management at community action programs in three states. Executive Director William Hunter is the agency's only full-time employee.
Haberlin would not answer a question about what options would be available to the state and federal governments should the investigation uncover widespread mismanagement at GLCAC. Hunter said the governments would draw their authority to leverage changes at GLCAC from the contracts they hold with it.
GLCAC oversees a wide array of anti-poverty programs, including the Head Start child care program, immigration assistance, heat subsidies, lead paint removal, consumer advocacy and parenting classes. It employees 310 people and provides services to about 30,00 people annually in Lawrence, Methuen, Andover and North Andover.
Thomas Schiavone, the president of GLCAC's board of directors, said investigators began their inquiry March 24 by requesting "a bunch of data" that included time sheets, a list of the agency's "current banking relationships," credit card receipts, wage scales, audits, performance evaluations, minutes of the board of directors' monthly meetings, attendance records, policy manuals and tax filings.
On Wednesday, seven investigators arrived at the GLCAC's Essex Street headquarters for two days of interviews. They questioned about 10 of the agency's 21 board members, including Schiavone, and the managers of each program GLCAC administers.
Schiavone, who served as chief of staff for former Lawrence Mayor Patricia Dowling and director of economic development for former Mayor Michael Sullivan, said he is confident that the investigation will not show widespread mismanagement or other problems at GLCAC.
"As a board member, all the documents I've ever received have always shown that the agency is running properly," Schiavone said. "That includes audits and financial statements. I have every confidence when this is done, they'll show that the delivery of services has not been compromised."
He said the board would not begin a search for a new executive director until the state completes its investigation and issues a report.
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