NEWTOWN, CT- Over $100,000 that was earmarked for a special fund to assist first responders and teachers who were at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT during a mass shooting there in 2012 has gone missing.
According to the Hartford Courant, state auditors don’t know specifically where the money has gone to, although it was somehow “co-mingled with cash from other sources” instead of being kept separately. The money is being kept in a separate bank account by the union-associated nonprofit that handled the money.
Although the Sandy Hook Worker Assistance Program was created by the Connecticut state legislature, it is privately funded and has been overseen by the United Labor Agency, the charitable arm of the state AFL-CIO labor organization.
According to the Stamford Advocate, State Rep Mitch Bolinsky of Newtown, along with other state Republicans have been trying to determine what happened to the money since February.
“We don’t know what the heck they did with the $103,000 to $104,000,” said Bolinsky.
He who had been elected to his seat just a month before the Sandy Hook shooting that resulted in the deaths of 20 first graders and six adults.
Bolinsky was informed in February that funding requests from two police officers, including a state trooper, had been denied because participation had been restricted only to educators.
He said that when he originally discussed the funding denial with Attorney General William Tong in February, there was no indication that any money was missing until the results of an audit were given to House Republicans this week.
“You don’t impugn somebody’s integrity without having evidence that something was done incorrectly or with malice,” Bolinsky said.
“This was enabled by loose charitable foundation regulations in the state of Connecticut. It’s unimaginable to me that this could have been thought through without the knowledge of the foundation itself.”
For his part, Bolinsky also apologized for the timing of the announcement, occurring only a week or so before the anniversary of the school shooting.
House Republican leader Themis Klarides of Derby, CT said that even though the fund has been restored to its previous balance, there are still unanswered questions.
“I would hope that anybody else who saw $103,000 missing would not conclude that this was resolved to our satisfaction,” she told reporters at a news conference.
She then referred to the Bernie Madoff situation, he of the infamous Ponzi scheme where he cost investors billions of dollars.
“I don’t think Bernie Madoff had that opportunity to say, ‘I’ll put the money back,’” she said. “That money should be in one place. We should know where the money is going.
We should know what the money is being used for. This is very important to this state. This is very important to that town. This is very important to the people of the state of Connecticut.”
According to Tong, his office did not know about the co-mingling of the money until the state auditors released their report on Wednesday. However, they did recently help to rewrite a new memorandum of understanding that ensured state troopers could access the funds the same way as educators.
“The auditor’s report has revealed very serious problems that require thorough review and investigation,” Tong said.
This can’t go unanswered.
“At a minimum we need to understand how any co-mingled funds were spent, what procedures are in place now to ensure protection of the funds going forward, and whether it makes sense to designate a new entity to safely maintain these funds and provide much needed transparency.”
According to New England Cable News, the audit concluded that the fund did distribute over $6,000 to eligible recipients, however most of the remaining cash in the fund was used for “other purposes” that were not identified in the report.
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State Rep J.P. Sredizinski (R-Monroe) pulled no punches in reacting to the news.
“I am absolutely offended, offended bottom line at this situation, which is people from around the country and around the world gave their money in support of these victims.”
According to the Advocate, a memorandum of understanding was created in August 2016 through the Office of Victim Services whereby $115,827 was transferred to the union charity, named after the late longtime AFL-CIO president John Driscoll, who passed away in 1994.
A lawyer that represented the union-related United Labor Agency charity said that the money has been restored to the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Program, however declined to provide further details.
The lawyer, Eric Chester noted that the charity understands the importance of the relief fund.
“Everyone involved in the creation and the administering of this program should be proud of the help it has provided,” he said. “As we approach Dec. 14, we should all be mindful of the struggles that many people continue to face, and we should do all that we can to support that.
The ULA has done exactly that and is committed to continuing its work to support those workers to have been impacted and need the help.”
Chester also noted that the auditors’’ report will be used as a template to retain the commitment to workers, and that corrective action has been taken as a result of the audit. He also said:
“The board has also established a number of new financial protocols to assure that nothing like this will happen again in the future.”
Moving forward, Tong has ordered the charity to rewrite rules to allow police and educators equal access to the funds. In addition, he addressed the flaws in the charity’s financial practices.
“The auditors’ report has revealed very serious problems that require thorough review and investigation,” he said.
To say the least.
“At a minimum we need to understand how any comingled funds were spent, what procedures are in place now to ensure protection of the funds going forward, and whether it makes sense to designate a new entity to safely maintain these funds and provide much needed transparency.”
Sandy Hook was of course the scene of one of the most horrific mass shootings in American history. On December 14, 2012, a 20-year-old man whom we won’t dignify by identifying fatally shot 20 children aged six and seven-years-old, as well as six adult teachers and staff.
Prior to the school shooting, he had shot and killed his mother at the home they shared in Newton. The shooter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound when police arrived on the scene.