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Forest Hills education provider billed state improperly: DiNapoli

Bilinguals Inc., a corporation now doing business as Achieve Beyond, is headquartered on Austin Street. Photo by Sarina Trangle
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A Forest Hills-based special education provider billed the state for $875,729 in inappropriate expenses, including lease and insurance payments for Lexus SUVs, rent and cable TV fees for the organization’s husband-wife leadership team and international recruiting, a state audit found.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released an audit Monday of Bilinguals Inc., which provides special education services in several languages to children between ages 3 and 5, and highlighted a dozen instances where state money was allegedly misused during the summer 2008 to summer 2011 probe period. After the period audited, Bilinguals began doing business as Achieve Beyond.

“Bilinguals, like other special education providers audited by my office, took advantage of lax oversight to cash in,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The state Education Department needs to recoup the money paid for these unwarranted charges and put in place more stringent standards to protect taxpayer dollars.”

DiNapoli’s office said it is not pursuing criminal charges following the audit, but is asking the state Education Department to recoup the $875,729 paid to Bilinguals and help train the agency on related state guidelines.

Like many municipalities, the city Department of Education refers families with special needs children to Bilinguals, a for-profit company headquartered out of 70-00 Austin St. in Forest Hills, and pays for the cost of therapy and other educational programs based on rates established by the state Education Department.

The state Education Department then refunds the city for 59 percent of these transactions and reimburses Bilinguals for related costs that comply with state guidelines.

DiNapoli said his staff’s review of Bilinguals’ finances over three fiscal years revealed that 6.6 percent, or $875,729, of the $13,339,403 the state Education Department paid the agency should have been disqualified for reimbursement.

Bilinguals disputed several components of the audit.

“We are disappointed with the comptroller’s assessment, much of which is inconsistent with the reimbursement requirements outlined by the state Education Department,” the company said in a statement. “Any errors committed more than three years ago were inadvertent and we have since invested heavily in our infrastructure to ensure full compliance at all times.”

The audit said the state paid $10,931 in rent for a Manhattan apartment shared by the executive director and her husband, the assistant executive director, so they would be closer to the Forest Hills office, $830 in cable TV for the unit and funeral expenses for a recent hire.

Bilinguals received $17,961 for lease, insurance and repairs on a 2010 Honda CR-V and two Lexus SUVs used by the executive director and assistant executive director as well as gas, parking and toll fees for cars driven by Bilinguals’ staff without filling out required paperwork, the audit said.

DiNapoli’s staff said the state did not have a policy on refunding international recruitment expenses, but questioned the $279,552 Bilinguals received for hiring efforts in Argentina, Peru and Colombia.

“Despite these significant charges, only eight internationally recruited bilingual teachers and therapists were actually hired during the audit period,” the report read.

Bilinguals said it turned to South America because of a shortage of qualified Spanish-speaking therapists in the United States.

Auditors noted the state paid $243,950 in salaries and fringe benefits for staff who were not assigned to work on audited projects and two employees who could not be identified.

In response, Bilinguals said auditors failed to accurately account for workers assigned to multiple Bilinguals programs.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

Posted 12:00 am, July 3, 2014
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Reader feedback

Anonymous says:
As an independent employee for this company, I am astonished by these findings. Besides the fact that most of the population doesn't even know what we do as therapists, unless you have had the opportunity to receive services for your children, they also probably do not know that we are not offered any insurance or given any toys to do our job. All therapists from any of these agencies have to buy their own toys and any materials needed to help these children succeed to the best of their ability. Not only that, since 1991 when the Early Intervention program was first started, therapists have NEVER seen a raise in their rate. Actually, Bloomberg cut our hourly rate by 20% in one year. I understand the audit does not look good, but in their defense many many people and auditors do not know what is entailed in our jobs. I do not support any sort of fraud and am not defending the agency about this but I do think the public needs to know that we too are teachers and deserve to be treated as such. This agency/supervisors of the agency are very good with observations and communicating with each provider. I was a
Public school teacher for around 4 years but chose this job because the progress seen is nothing comparable to what you would see in a school. I don't want the public to see our profession as a bunch of frauds trying to steal money from the state. Every teacher I work with is fully dedicated and love what they do. This is why we stay doing this, even though we all know school districts are a better option for our futures. I Just wanted to let you all know that MOST therapists do this for the children we serve. I have never met more dedicated people before I came into this job.
Sept. 14, 2014, 10:29 pm
in the know from new york says:
The shame of it is the this agency receives millions of dollars in funding to support teachers' salaries (to include direct services to children as well as indirect services such as travel time, prep/paperwork and attendance at meetings) AND benefits, but most of this funding does not end up where it is intended; to support the students or the teachers. Additionally, NYSED pays for gas/mileage and teaching materials and supplies. NYSED WANTS and FUNDS preschool teachers to be treated as professional "employees." NYSED also WANTS and FUNDS these programs expecting that these programs will utlize the funds to support quality services (just look at how much money they keep finding that has been stolen) but most of that money is funneled to the administrators, board members and directors.

You are correct, it is not the teachers demonstrate a lack of dedication to the students, nor is it the profession. It is the model of service delivery that has been taken over by "for profit" companies that invest tax payer dollars to pay clever accountants who are able to launder & hide millions more of taxpayer dollars for their own benefit.

Most early intervention and preschool teachers have no idea what they should be getting paid or paid for, or how they should be paid. It is up to the teachers to educate themselves not only about how to do their jobs, but to demand to be treated as professionals as opposed to "prostitutes" that are pimped out by these despicable agencies throughout not only New York, but nationally.

You may not have received raises, but their reimbursement rates have gone up.
Oct. 17, 2014, 7:19 pm
Truth. from U.S.A says:
This is easily the worst company I have ever worked for. As one of their former high-level employees with several years of experience, I have never witnessed such negligence and disgusting practices. Using white out to alter legal documents, forging signatures, blatant lying, and encouraging fraud are just the beginnings. The therapists are wonderful. Knowledgeable, caring, and GOOD people. The management staff, including their shameful CEO who dresses like a hooker when she enters the pediatric world, need to be realed in. After resigning after several years of dedicated and faithful service, I have come to realize what poison Axiom Link, DBA Bilinguals Inc, DBA Achieve Beyond, truly is. Claiming their 5-star international vacations is just the beginning...
Nov. 14, 2014, 7:21 pm

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