AIDS Groups ‘Abuse’ Federal Funding, Washington Monthly Reports
AIDS groups are using federal funding to commit a "rash of abuses," and "indifference" by federal agencies tasked with monitoring these funds has contributed to the problem, the Washington Monthly reports (Turner, Washington Monthly, April 2001). Money from the Ryan White CARE Act is supposed to help state, local and other public or private not-for-profit groups provide services for "medically underserved individuals and families affected by HIV" (HRSA Web site, 4/6). However, these funds have financed shopping trips, large salaries for executives and psychic hotlines, the Monthly reports. Some of the items and services the magazine says were purchased with the money are outlined below:
- The former Margaret K. Wright Clinic in Dallas, the "sole source of AIDS services in North Texas" for low-income African Americans, "misspent tens of thousands of federal dollars" earmarked for patients. A county audit revealed that the clinic billed the government for items such as "shopping sprees to Neiman Marcus," home appliances and psychic hotline calls.
- At Central Florida United AIDS Resources in Orlando, Fla., bookkeeper Corey White was sentenced to 37 months in jail for embezzling more than $500,000 from the group. White spent the money on entertainment, hotels and restaurants.
- The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is examining the financial records of the Drugs and AIDS Prevention Among African Americans group. According to an audit, group director James Wise kept 10% of all Medicaid payments to DAPAA as "personal compensation" and wrote himself checks totaling $13,300.
- AIDServe Indiana, the "only state-wide agency" in Indiana providing assistance to people with HIV/AIDS, "mismanaged hundreds of thousands of dollars, with devastating consequences for sick people," an investigation by the Indianapolis Star found. Analysis of the group found that administrators "diverted funds" to pay for salaries and other operating costs, even while the group owed "thousands of dollars" to "dozens" of landlords, pharmacies and doctors throughout the state.
- Pat Christen, head of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, earns an annual salary of more than $200,000, according to the group's 1999 tax forms. Craig Schniderman, executive director of Food and Friends in Washington, D.C., earned $163,111 in 1998.
'Lax' Regulation and Oversight
Federal oversight of AIDS groups' spending has been "[l]ax," with some regulators using funding to finance their own "perk[s]," the Monthly reports. The San Juan Star reported that Puerto Rican legislator Rep. David Noriega Rodriguez presented "substantial evidence of AIDS fraud" in a report to former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, but "received only a form letter in return." The Monthly also cites the case of Joe O'Neill, head of the HIV/AIDS Bureau at the Health Resources and Services Administration. O'Neill has convened AIDS conferences in the Virgin Islands and Rio de Janeiro, "urg[ing]" other participants to travel to the meetings "using their Ryan White funding." O'Neill, however, told a congressional subcommittee last July that his department "lacked the resources to adequately monitor and detect AIDS funding scandals." While the Ryan White CARE Act calls for the establishment of local oversight councils to monitor groups receiving federal funding, community participation in these councils "never materialized." Council members were originally supposed to "reflect the demographics of the local infected population" and 35% were supposed to be HIV-positive. However, the councils today are "packed almost entirely with salaried employees, board members and consultants to groups receiving Ryan White funds," the Monthly reports. People with HIV and AIDS often have "little say" in the groups' operations. The article concludes that HIV-positive people "can be the most effective watchdogs," but are "silenced by a paternalistic AIDS care delivery system that seems to have forgotten just who it is meant to serve" (Washington Monthly, April 2001).