Mo. cancels contract with disability group

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri education officials took steps Friday to cancel a contract with a nonprofit group that helps disabled people find jobs, citing falsified billing documents that bilked a government program out of tens of thousands of dollars.

Community Employment Inc. submitted more than $54,000 of false or errant bills to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's vocational rehabilitation program, said Jeanne Loyd, the assistant education commissioner for the Office of Adult Learning and Rehabilitation Services. The Springfield-based nonprofit has reimbursed the state nearly $21,000 so far, she said.

Lloyd said she sent a termination notice Friday to the organization, meaning its state contract will end in 30 days.

Officials at Community Employment did not return telephone messages left Friday by The Associated Press.

The organization's website lists 10 offices around the state that help disabled clients identify their job skills and find employment. An online state database shows Community Employment has been paid nearly $11.4 million over the past decade, including more than $700,000 in the budget year that began July 1. It is paid on a fee-for-service basis, meaning it gets paid only after its clients find jobs.

Lloyd said Community Employment had falsified billing documents to make it appear clients got jobs when they really didn't, or to indicate that clients had worked more days than they actually did. The problems initially were discovered in July at the organization's St. Louis office, she said. When an August review of the Kansas City office also found problems, the department stopped referring new clients to the organization statewide, Lloyd said.

Billing problems later also were discovered at Community Employment offices in Joplin, Jefferson City and St. Joseph, Lloyd said.

"It wasn't one site or one or two people, it did appear to be a systemic issue," she said.

The department has shared the information with the state auditor and attorney general's office, but has not referred the matter to local police or prosecutors, Lloyd said.

A spokesman for Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich confirmed the office is aware of situation involving Community Employment but declined to comment further Friday because the office is in the process of auditing the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

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