State faulted for theft from disabled

By Lindsey Riback | The Journal News

ALBANY - Cash belonging to developmentally disabled individuals under state care have been the frequent target of theft and mismanagement by the workers who oversee them, according to a report from a state investigator.

The report Thursday form Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott highlighted 10 cases from across New York in which employees took advantage of the cash accounts of the residents living in state-run group homes and facilities.

Among them was the case of Cleve Blake, a former house manager of a facility in Briarcliff Manor. Blake was convicted of stealing about $7,500 from residents' accounts to purchase sneakers, musical equipment, a recliner and home goods for himself, according to the report.

The report faulted the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities for failing to "safeguard residents’ personal allowance accounts."

“With disturbing regularity we have seen the shameless preying on a vulnerable population by those charged with their care,” Leahy Scott said in a statement.

Developmentally disabled individuals in state care are entitled to an allowance each month and given the ability to spend it based on their preferences and needs. But the report found employees repeatedly took advantage of the system.

Among those featured in the report were a developmental assistant in a Steuben County group home who stole $130 in Walmart gift cards that had been intended as gifts for residents' families, while a Buffalo-area worker stole $250 from residents' accounts to take her family to a "How to Train Your Dragon" live show.

Blake, meanwhile, was arrested in July 2015, later pleading guilty to attempted petit larceny on Dec. 3 after he was fired as house manager of the Echo Lake IRA in September. Earlier this year, he was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge and ordered to repay the money, according to the report.

Scott said employees need to be better trained in managing the cash accounts of residents, and the policies regarding the review of cash at each residence need to be improved.

In response to the report, the state agency agreed to a series of policy changes meant to bolster its oversight of the cash accounts, while also agreeing to research whether a debit card system for its residents is feasible.

Among the changes, the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities agreed to provide added training for supervisors and management overseeing personal accounts, create a policy for purchasing gift cards on behalf of residents and boost its receipt requirements.


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