Audit reveals significant spending by OTR school

COLUMBUS, OH (FOX19) - Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost has released a report on Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy.

"The wining and dining on the public tab shocks the conscience," Yost said Tuesday. "It went for things your average tax payer picking up the tab doesn't get to do."

The audit covered the period of July 1, 2006 through May 31, 2010 to determine whether credit card charges were supported by documentation indicating the nature and purpose of the charge, for CCPA related purposes; determine whether non payroll disbursements not made by credit card were supported by documentation indicating the nature and purpose of the disbursement, for CCPA related purposes; and determine whether certain CCPA employees were compensated in accordance with governing board approved compensation.

The audit noted a general lack of Internet control and monitoring of CCPA credit card activity to ensure CCPA funds were used for proper public purposes. Seventeen findings were issued for recovery, totaling $340,800.

Superintendent Lisa Hamm and treasurer Stephanie Millard were held accountable in nearly every instance and have been indicted on 26 counts of theft in office, tampering with records, tampering with evidence and unauthorized use of property.

"Our clients vigorously deny any criminal liability in any of this," attorney Mike Allen told FOX19. "They were authorized by their board to make the expenditures that they made."

Allen says legitimate explanations will come out in court.

"Some of the expenditures in question were for team building and yes a bit unconventional but completely authorized by that board and legal," Allen argued.

"In some ways it's worse if you think it's OK because it means you've lost your compass somewhere along the way, you've lost the context to even really be in public service," Yost said.

The subjects of the findings for recovery included expenses related to best practice school visits, conferences and professional development events; doctoral program domestic and international residences, tuition and unauthorized expenses; administrative retreats; staff and students outings; staff and student incentives and tributes; meals; vehicle expenses; medical expenses; services at Hamm's personal residence, expenses related to private organizations associated with Hamm and miscellaneous expenses unrelated to the operations of CCPA.

There were also instances where frequent flyer miles earned on CCPA credit cards were used for personal travel.

In addition, 11 findings were issued for recovery totaling $164,247 for reasons similar to those noted during the examination of credit card charges. The subject of findings for recovery included authorized healthcare insurance benefits, legal and other expenses of private organization; event ticket purchases; property tax payments; unauthorized expenses related to Hamm's father; utilities paid on behalf of private businesses; unsupported cash withdrawals and contracted food service payments.

According to the audit, CCPA purchased Nutri-System weight loss meals totaling $4,663 for staff lunches. CCPA also expended $4,000 to rent suites at U.S. Bank Arena for Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber concerts as a student incentive.

There were also findings for recovery totaling $12,377 against relatives of Hamm who were CCPA employees but were compensated amounts greater than approved by CCPA's governing board. An employee received duplicated payments totaling $1,675. Millard was also given a $400 bonus even though no provisions entitling her to such bonuses or benefits similar to those awarded to CCPA employees.

Hamm and Millard were terminated on March 18, 2013.

The audit states that CCPA's governing board provided minimal to no oversight of CCPA spending and its operations.

"There's probably room for plenty of blame to go around here," Yost said. "A strong board is absolutely indispensable in oversight."

"That board signed off on those expenses and our clients were entitled to rely on that board and that board's observations and judgments," Allen said.

Board members declined to comment following their meeting Tuesday but the school's sponsor did speak to FOX19.

"The board members acted upon their policies as they knew them and on the recommendation of those that were accused," maintained Ethel Harris of Kids Count of Dayton, Inc.

The attorney for the board, Jack Rubenstein, told FOX19:

"The board was unaware of the extravagant expenses cited in the audit. The board has been cooperating with the auditor's investigation and the county prosecutor in the pursuit of criminal charges."

"We too are outraged.," Harris said.  "The board members are outraged, we as a sponsor are outraged, the State of Ohio, Department of Education, we're all outraged."

Harris says the five member board has remained unchanged following the audit.

CCPA responded to the audit in May after several recommendations were made.

To view the full audit, click here.

Allen says the criminal case is set to go to court the first week in October.

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