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July 6, 2012
TOPEKA An investigation of the events leading up to last year's abrupt closing of a regional assistance program for the disabled in southwest Kansas appears to have stalled.
The Center for Independent Living in Southwest Kansas closed in March 2011 after state auditors cited the facility for misspending more than $340,000 and for having billed Medicaid for more than $790,000 for services that could not be documented.
At the time, Jeff Wagaman, a spokesman for Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, said the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Division was investigating the center’s finances.
On Friday, Wagaman said "the investigation is ongoing,” but otherwise did not comment.
Finney County Attorney John Wheeler in Garden City said his office was unaware of any developments in the investigation or even if one was underway.
“If there’s been an investigation, it’s not been referred to this office for prosecution,” he said.
Wheeler said he had asked both the Attorney General’s Office and the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services to conduct a full-scale forensic audit of the center’s books. A forensic audit differs from a standard audit in that it specifically seeks information that could lead to civil litigation or a criminal prosecution.
Neither agency, he said, had responded to his request.
“If there’s going to be a criminal investigation in a case like this, I’m saying there needs to be a forensic audit,” Wheeler said. “And at this point nobody seems to want to pay for it.”
Medicaid fraud investigations often can take months or longer to conclude.
Earlier this week, the former SRS was reorganized and its functions divided between the newly formed Kansas Department for Children and Families and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.
Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for both new agencies, said an SRS investigator earlier had gathered some of the center’s bank statements in hopes of being able to recover some of the program’s assets.
But that initiative, she wrote in an email to KHI News Service, “went no further. Last time the audit unit was on the site was in September of 2010. The audit was issued in early 2011.”
De Rocha said the agencies she speaks for were unaware that Wheeler had asked for a forensic audit.
During the past legislative session, SRS official Mike Donnelly testified that of the various audits the agency had done of the state's centers for independent living, the review of the southwest center's finances was the one that revealed evidence of potential fraud.
Initially, the Garden City Police Department also was involved in the investigation. But department spokesman Sgt. Michael Reagel on Thursday said, “We do not have an active investigation going.”
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