HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Tens of thousands of dollars in philanthropic contributions intended to help first responders, educators and staff impacted by the Sandy Hook school shooting went missing from a labor charity organization and were mingled with other money, according to an audit report released Thursday, raising questions about how the account is being managed.
The leader of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, which is affiliated with the United Labor Agency that runs the fund, said the national labor organization has “put together the funds to make the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Program whole again” and plans to investigate what happened.
“As soon as we learned about the results of the audit, the board met and took immediate corrective action,” said Sal Luciano, who is president of both the Connecticut AFL-CIO and the United Labor Agency, which helps workers and their families with a variety of issues, from drug and alcohol counseling to disability benefits. Luciano said the audit report “came as a shock and a disappointment” to him and the rest of the board.
The audit was requested by two Republican lawmakers, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides of Derby and Rep. Mitch Bolinsky of Newtown, whose district is where the 2012 elementary school shooting took place.
“That money should be in one place. We should know where the money is going. We should know who the money is being used for,” Klarides said. “This is very important to this state. This is very important to that town.”
According to the audit, ULA’s financial statements showed a steady decline in net assets, from $188,420 as of June 30, 2014 to a deficit balance of $20,962 in June 2018. The balance kept fluctuating over the years, based on the timing of receipts and disbursements. As of Sept. 30 of this year, it was $41,977.
The auditors said it appears “as a result of financial difficulties” ULA may have used funds from the assistance program “for other purposes.”
The Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Program was created by the General Assembly in the aftermath of the mass shooting to help replenish lost wages for union and non-union workers as they dealt emotionally with the tragedy that left 26 dead, including 20 children. The ULA eventually became responsible for managing and disbursing the remaining funds.
Luciano said the program is currently available to any worker impacted by the shooting. He said the ULA board has established new financial protocols “to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.” The board has created financial trustee positions to provide greater oversight of the organization’s financial practices and plans to hire an independent outside attorney to conduct an investigation into how the money from the workers fund was used.
The audit found that money from the Sandy Hook program was mixed with other funds and made it hard to understand how the money had been spent. While the ULA is promising to do better, the group was not required to keep the funds in a separate account.
“As soon as the results of that investigation are completed, the board will make a determination on necessary disciplinary action,” he said. Meanwhile, Klarides said her office is considering asking the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office to investigate the matter.
Luciano stressed that the auditors verified no worker, union or non-union, was denied benefits from the program. But Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, R-Newtown, said he was initially tipped off that two first responders with PTSD did not receive benefits they were eligible for, prompting him to contact Democratic Attorney General William Tong in February for help.
“It’s ghastly to think about what was done and from whom this money was taken from,” Bolinsky said.