WASHINGTON, D.C. (WDAM) - This is a news release from the United States Department of Justice.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America Corporation (Big Brothers) has agreed to pay the United States $1.6 million to resolve allegations of false claims for funds under Department of Justice grants awarded to help children at risk. Big Brothers is a not-for-profit organization that provides mentoring services to boys and girls throughout the United States. The organization, originally based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is now headquartered in Tampa, Florida.
"Organizations such as Big Brothers do great work, but in carrying out their mission they also have an obligation to the populations they serve and to the taxpayer to ensure that government grant funds are used responsibly according to the rules," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department's Civil Division. "The settlement announced today exemplifies the Department's commitment to hold those who mishandle such funds accountable."
"The U.S. Attorney's office is committed to protecting federal grants and ensuring that the funds are appropriately spent," said U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. "Federal grant recipients must administer these grants with transparency and diligence, and the compliance measures implemented pursuant to this settlement agreement will help to achieve those goals."
Big Brothers is a national organization that acts through approximately 300 independent affiliate agencies across the United States. Since 2004, Big Brothers has received millions of dollars in grants from the Justice Department to support initiatives on behalf of children at risk. As a condition of those grants, Big Brothers was required to maintain sound accounting and financial management systems in accordance with federal regulations and guidelines designed to ensure that grant funds would be properly accounted for and used only for appropriate purposes.
The United States alleges that Big Brothers violated these regulations and guidelines with respect to three grants awarded by the Justice Department from 2009 to 2011, by commingling the grant funds with general operating funds, failing to segregate expenditures to ensure that the funds were used as intended and failing to maintain internal financial controls to safeguard the proper use of those funds. These allegations were the focus of a 2013 audit of the three grants performed by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General. Since 2013, Big Brothers has replaced its management team and begun implementing policies governing the use of federal grant funds.
"We appreciate the support of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Civil Division in working with us on these kinds of cases," said Department of Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz. "The OIG's auditors and investigators will continue to work with each other closely to uncover misuses of grant funds, and with our law enforcement partners to ensure that justice is served."
In addition to paying the United States $1.6 million, and as part of the settlement, Big Brothers has agreed to institute a strict compliance program that requires the organization to engage in regular audits, both internally and by independent auditors; establish a compliance team, an employee code of conduct, whistleblower policies and a disciplinary policy for employees who engage in or fail to disclose abuses of federal grant funds; provide regular employee training on these policies; and employ risk assessment tools to detect abuses that might otherwise go undetected.
The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort between the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Civil Division's Commercial Litigation Branch. The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General conducted the investigation.
The claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.