October 21, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
49°F
test

LCCAA worker faces theft charges

Anonymous letter spurred investigation

ELYRIA — A criminal investigation triggered last year by an anonymous letter sent to public officials has resulted in a Lorain County Community Action Agency employee being indicted for theft in office.
A county grand jury indicted Elizabeth Young, 39, of Lorain, on charges of theft in office, theft and tampering with records, county Common Pleas Court documents showed.  
Young, an employee in LCCAA’s Emergency Home Assistance Program, was among a few LCCAA workers accused of corruption and misdeeds in an anonymous letter sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last summer.
The letter, written on LCCAA letterhead and faxed from a local Staples store, accused agency directors of fabricating Head Start numbers, nepotism and cronyism in awarding LCCAA contracts and misusing grant money to pay for legal bills. 
The letter also accused Young, the agency’s assistant director of housing, of falsifying documents to receive financial assistance through LCCAA’s Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP.
Last year, the Ohio Department of Development conducted an investigation and cleared Young of any wrongdoing, proffering that she fell into the eligibility guidelines to receive heating assistance from the agency.
The county grand jury has disagreed.
Young was actually responsible for processing applications for HEAP assistance, but she received HEAP funds to help pay for her own heating and utility bills, county Prosecutor Dennis Will said.
Young used anywhere from $500 to a “few thousand dollars” of HEAP money to pay her own utility bills between January 2001 and December 2005, Will said, adding that the criminal charges are all felonies.
LCCAA board member Ron Nabakowski said the dollar amount for the five-year period was closer to $600, and the state didn’t catch the discrepancy because it only reviewed “computer printouts” of financial records, while county prosecutors conducted a more in-depth investigation.
In a November 2006 letter sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Tim Howard — head of an LCCAA committee that also investigated the letter’s allegations — said “there are some (investigative) findings that at this time we are not at liberty to divulge.”
But Howard also said at the time that most of the allegations made in the anonymous letter turned out to be false. Young was not mentioned as one of the employees or LCCAA divisions that were falsely accused.
Will said other elements of the investigation are still “being tracked down,” but he’s unaware “at this time” if any other LCCAA employees could be charged. 
LCCAA Director William Locke and human resources Director Melissa Yoby are both on vacation this week and were unavailable for comment, an LCCAA employee said, adding that Young’s personnel file would not be available for review until today.
Nabakowski said Young will be placed on administrative leave until LCCAA officials decide what action to take.
“Ironically, at the last meeting Mr. Locke said she was an excellent employee,” Nabakowski said. “It’s always sad — some people just make stupid mistakes. She must have had some financial problems, but it’s always surprise.”
Young turned herself in at the county jail Thursday morning, but posted $3,000 bond by 9:30 a.m.  
 Contact Shawn Foucher at 329-7197 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.