MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A 6-month audit of a federal court monitor who charged the state more than $1 million in expenses is complete.
The audit conducted by the Department of Human Services found questionable expenses, but also blames DHS for not paying close enough attention.
The audit sifted through a million-plus dollars in expense claims, but it found no serious wrongdoing, and no money will be paid back.
U.S. Federal Judge Donovan Frank appointed Pennsylvania-based David Ferleger to make sure Minnesota follows court orders to fix serious abuses of disabled patients and monitor reforms of Minnesota’s sex offender program.
Ferleger is a national legal expert on civil rights and disability rights, and he charged the state $225 an hour — half his normal rate.
But the Department of Human Services was alarmed at Ferleger’s spending habits, which included 10 first-class airline tickets purchased by Ferleger and his consultant team, and thousands of dollars worth of expense claims without receipts.
The audit found Ferleger billed the state $1,530,839 for his work, and it questions a number of receipts.
But it also blames the state of Minnesota for not providing appropriate oversight of Ferleger’s expenses.
The Department of Human Services never challenged Ferleger’s expenses each time he submitted them, even though it had 10 days to object.
The department wasn’t paying close enough attention, and it’s too late now.
The audit reports that consultants on Ferleger’s team billed the state hundreds of dollars an hour for traveling to Minnesota. One charged $12,450 in travel time alone.
It questions a monthly $1,800 administrative charge, in addition to Ferleger’s hourly fee.
In one instance, Ferleger billed the state $225 an hour for time spent explaining how members of his team would bill the state. Ferleger disputes this claim.
Despite concerns about the million dollar billings, the audit found “no issues” with the hourly rates, and the Department of Human Services says it was “generally satisfied” with the consultants’ work.
Ferleger says in a letter filed in federal court there are “major errors” in the audit, and claims, accurately, that DHS reviewed every invoice and expense, and never once objected.
“The payment and DHS review process were established with DHS consent,” Ferleger said FerlegerLetter. “All payments were made after advance review by DHS of every detail in every billing. No payments were made without advance DHS review.”
“After advance notice and review of every invoice and expense, DHS decided not to object and thereby agreed to payment on court order.DHS never filed any objection to any invoice or expense,” he said.
The Department of Human Services says it has changed the way it reviews invoices from the court monitor.
In a written statement, DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said:
“We absolutely will implement this report’s recommendations to strengthen our oversight of invoices from the court monitor and consultants. I ordered this review because I was concerned about some of the billing practices we were seeing. We have already made changes, including moving oversight of these expenses to a different part of our agency and raising objections to items in the invoices, both informally with the court monitor and formally with the court. It may be uncomfortable to raise these questions, but it’s the right thing to do.’