Queens, New York-based Bilingual SEIT and Preschool,which provides educational services for toddlers with disabilities, has been accused of overbilling the state by more than $1 million in order to pay for the owners' personal expenses.
According to The New York Times, the organization took advantage of the New York Department of Education's public preschool program, which provides government money to contractors that work with children who have developmental, physical or learning disabilities. SEIT's teachers are sent out to work individually with children in the region to help them develop knowledge and skills. However, the recent accounts payable audit revealed that the owners of the Queens organization, Cheon Park and Hyun Ham – who were once married but have since divorced – had abused the system over the past few years.
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released the findings from the investigation. Auditors discovered that Park listed his former wife as assistant executive director, when she served only as a payroll clerk. Park paid Ham $369,081 in salary for the fiscal years of 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. Additionally, SEIT fraudulently charged the state $795,368 for expenses unrelated to the business, including $5,567 for children's bedroom furniture, cellphone charges and cosmetics, as well as $60,280 in costs for three vehicles. The audit also found that the owners billed the program for time worked by 26 employees, who were not able to prove they had in fact worked during those hours.
The Times reports that this is the fourth instance of illegal financial activity conducted by schools that participated in the program and 18 more cases will be looked into.
"Special education services are critical for thousands of children and every tax dollar meant for them should be spent on them," DiNapoli said. "As we have seen in several audits of special education providers, taxpayers are footing the bill for expenses they shouldn't have to cover, no-show jobs and other perks."