Possible mismanagement of taxpayer money - WFSB 3 Connecticut

I-Team Investigation

Possible mismanagement of taxpayer money

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A non-profit that ran a jobs center in New Haven is crying foul, saying their decision to fire one of their workers cost them a $3 million contract.

For more than a decade, a non-profit called the Human Resources Agency (HRA) of New Britain has run job centers in southern Connecticut that have helped thousands.

“We help them secure employment and maintain employment,” said Rocco Tricarico, CEO of Human Resources Agency.

Tricarico said the program was going well. In fact, Human Resources Agency was just re-awarded the annual $3 million taxpayer funded contract last July.

“We've never had issues with performance, we've never had issues personnel, we've never had issues around fiscal issues, they were happy with our work,” Tricarico said.

But at the same time, HRA executives say they were having internal issues with the HRA employee who supervised their three dozen workers at a jobs center based in New Haven. 

That manager was ultimately fired.

“There were violations of our HRA policies that we felt gave rise to a termination with cause,” Tricarico said.

Soon after they let that manager go, HRA was fired too. Told their contract to run the jobs center was being terminated by Workforce Alliance, the regional jobs board who controls the federal funds.   

“It seemed as if the individual was bigger than the contract and the individual was bigger than the services. And this was someone who worked for us not Workforce Alliance,” Tricarico said.

The Channel 3 I-Team reached out to Workforce Alliance CEO William Villano, who agreed that firing HRA’s manager was part of the issue because it created a leadership void but he said Tricarico is “delusional” if he thinks that was the only reason. 

He said there had been "fiscal issues" with HRA that raised concerns in the months before the termination. To dispute that, HRA gave the I-Team letters from Workforce Alliance commending HRA’s financial policies in each of the last three years.

“I take our fiduciary responsibility as the steward of those dollars very seriously, as does everyone who works here, and I felt in order to ensure that those dollars were spent and the services were provided in the manner we discussed and promised, we needed to make that change,” Tricarico said.

Tricarico added that this isn't the first time he's felt a move by Workforce Alliance raised concerns about their management of taxpayer dollars. 

Tricarico gave the I-Team the resignation letter he got from a job counselor on his staff the same day he gave that employee a written warning for leaving work without permission. 

Tricarico says the worker quit after being promised he could have the same job but work for Workforce Alliance instead and was told to disregard the warning about watching the time clock.

“So that individual resigned his position at 4 p.m. in the afternoon, with no two weeks notice as per policy or anything else, at 9 a.m. the next morning he's sitting at the same desk, in the same office working for Workforce Alliance directly now, no longer an HRA employee. So we're trying to make the person accountable for the hours they're supposed to be working and instead of supporting me, they pull my legs out from under me by telling the person to quit their job and they'll hire them,” Tricarico said.

Villano, at Workforce Alliance, doesn't dispute that account, but said the particular employee was one of their most successful career advisors and they couldn't afford to lose him so they decided to supervise him themselves.

Villano declined to talk on camera, but Workforce Alliance gave the I-Team a lengthy statement saying in part "we have successfully transitioned to the new management entity with no interruption in services to job center customers and employers in the region. We now have a stable and healthy partnership that positions us to attain our performance goals for the year."

But HRA says when they fired that worker, not only did they lose the contract but they're also still short $400,000 they should have been paid. They're also livid that when Workforce Alliance found a new operator for the jobs center the first thing that company did was rehire the manager who HRA fired.

“The arrogance in fact of bringing that individual back after knowing what they knew, and what they were told, not just by me but by others,” Tricarico said. “I'm not looking to get my contract back. I just think it's a bigger question to look at moving forward is this the way we want public dollars to be administered.”

Both HRA and Workforce Alliance told the I-team they pleaded their case to state labor commissioner Scott Jackson. 

Channel 3 spoke with him by phone and he said he tried to mediate the dispute without success. 

He said it's not unusual to move employees from one payroll to another but did call the sudden contract termination of HRA unusual. 

He said his agency investigates any credible complaints they get about the misuse of taxpayer funds, but wouldn't say if there are any active investigations related to this battle. 

Both Workforce Alliance and HRA told the I-Team they expect their lawyers will take it from here.

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