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Adults without required background check worked with children at Catholic Charities

CEO Antonio Fernandez gives conflicting information on audit's finding

SAN ANTONIO – An audit of Catholic Charities of San Antonio completed late last year reveals that more than 50 paid volunteers in its foster grandparent program did not have their backgrounds properly screened prior to working with children.

The finding, detailed in an audit of the nonprofit for its financial year ending June 30, 2018, came after Catholic Charities was inspected by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

CNCS is a federal agency that encourages volunteer work as a way to improve the community.

As a condition for accepting federal funding for the foster grandparent program, Catholic Charities was required to have volunteers submit to a National Service Criminal History Check (NSCHC).

The NSCHC is a screening procedure established by law to vet people given access to vulnerable populations like children and the elderly.

This rigorous screening includes a fingerprint-based FBI criminal history check, a nationwide name-based check of the National Sex Offender Public Website and a search of the statewide criminal history registry where the person lives and where he or she will work, according to the NSCHC website.

The audit pointed out that Catholic Charities of San Antonio had insufficient NSCHCs for 54 people in its foster grandparent program.

The Defenders have reached out to the Corporation for National and Community Service but have not yet received a formal response regarding Catholic Charities of San Antonio.

People age 55 and older receive a stipend in exchange for mentoring "children with exceptionalities and special needs" between 15-40 hours per week, according to an online description of the foster grandparent program.

"I hope that there's a proper investigation."

Houston-based attorney Randy Burton, chairman and founder of the national nonprofit Justice for Children, called the finding troubling. His organization aids abused children who "the system" has failed.

"The worst kind of scenario is these kind of things," Burton said. "I hope that there's a proper investigation, where they go in and they look and they make damn sure that these children are safe."

Fernandez gives conflicting information

Catholic Charities of San Antonio CEO Antonio Fernandez declined repeated requests from the KSAT 12 Defenders to be interviewed for this story.

During a phone conversation July 8, Fernandez gave conflicting information to the Defenders about the background checks in question.

When told by the Defenders that the background check issue was described at length in an audit of his own agency, Fernandez said, "I can tell you that that's not true."

When asked why the audit said it was true, Fernandez then backed down and said, "Because maybe we didn't have all the background checks that people needed to have."

A day later, a Catholic Charities spokeswoman released a statement regarding the foster grandparent background checks:

The most recent 2018 audit also found that 54 individuals in the Foster Grandparent Program did not have proper documentation of background checks. The agency has always required volunteers in this program to undergo a series of four background checks. A coding issue in one of the four background checks conducted was discovered as a result of the audit and the auditor agreed with the corrective action plan to re-do the background check on the 54 individuals, along with having them re-fingerprinted. This program is in compliance with the background check requirements, and volunteers undergo four background checks. 

The audit, however, was much more direct and blamed the issue on Catholic Charities' program staff and human resources department having a lack of knowledge of compliance requirements.

The audit firm recommended that Catholic Charities implement controls to determine who is required to go through a NSCHC and to properly maintain documentation of the results of any checks.

Records show charity management agreed with the finding.

The discrepancy on background checks was included in the same audit that found a wide range of accounting issues within the agency, including:

  • Checks over $2,500 were processed without the required two signatures
  • A new bank account opened but not reflected in the general ledger accounts
  • Support documentation for credit card purchases missing
  • Cash not consistently accounted for in the general ledger accounts
  • The value of in-kind donations consistently exaggerated beyond its fair value
  • $25,559 spent on client furniture at a store without an informal bid or written bids from other businesses
  • Reconciliations not performed on a regular basis
  • Reconciliations not agreeing with the general ledger
  • Policies not consistent with accounting principles generally accepted in the U.S.

A reconciliation takes place when an accountant compares an agency's financial records with bank statements, credit card bills and other documents to see if they match.

Catholic Charities' officials blamed many of the financial issues on substantial turnover within its accounting department during the year in question.

Request for funding denied

The results of the audit have caused at least one program partner to deny a request for funding from the agency.

The Texas Veterans Commission in January rejected Catholic Charities' request for funds from a general assistance grant, citing material weakness in the charity's audit.

The commission had awarded Catholic Charities $300,000 for both the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 grant terms.


About the Authors:

Dillon Collier

Dillon is a Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year. His relentless work includes uncovering the misuse of funds within a local housing authority and prompting a congressional inquiry at Fort Sam Houston.