Widespread mismanagement and thefts of developmentally disabled, report finds

Oct 21, 2016

An investigation of state employees stealing from developmentally disabled people in their care has prompted a call for better oversight by the agency overseeing group homes for the disabled.

New York State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott says her investigation found a "widespread and prolific" pattern of "mismanagement and thefts...shamelessly preying on a vulnerable population by those charged with their care."

The report detailed 10 cases that have been prosecuted, including one in West Seneca and another in Gowanda. They included employees of state-run group homes who stole residents' cash and gift cards or made personal purchases from residents' accounts.
 

Credit NYS OPWDD

In West Seneca, the report highlights the 2012 investigation of Lynn Knightner, a developmental assistant assigned to the state's Seneca Street home. The report says she pleaded guilty to stealing residents' personal allowance funds and falsifying receipts and other paperwork to cover up her thefts.

Knightner was ordered to pay restitution to the victims and perform 100 hours of community service. After a disciplinary hearing, she also was terminated from the home and additional controls were put into place to prevent new thefts.

In Gowanda, the report highlights the investigation of Corrine Alexander, employed by the state's Unger Road home. She eventually pleaded guilty to making personal purchases on the home's credit card.

In May 2016, she was ordered to pay $1,000 restitution and sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge. The home suspended Alexander, after which she resigned. The home itself was cited for not following state procedures for receipts.

In response to the report, the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities agreed to implement reforms, including enhanced training for staff, periodic audits of residents' cash accounts and more accurate logs of transactions.

The IG's report comes a month after a class action lawsuit was filed in Buffalo against Governor Cuomo and the acting commissioner of the OPWDD. The litigation seeks to end what is considered a "moratorium" on more residential housing for thousands of adults. It contends that by not properly planning placement of thousands of developmentally disabled adults into appropriate homes, the Cuomo Administration is violating state and federal laws.