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The Berkshires

Comptroller: Audit finds special ed provider bilked taxpayers

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Albany/HV: Comptroller: Audit finds special ed provider bilked taxpayers
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Concert tickets, vacations and home electronics. That's what state officials say one local company spent taxpayer money on instead of on special ed pre-schoolers. YNN's Lori Chung has more.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- On their Facebook page, you'll find a gallery of pictures showing the services that Achievements provides to disabled preschoolers in Albany, Rensselaer and Schenectady counties.

"These are the most needy of children whose care is being funded by the state and every dollar should be available to them for their needs," said Assistant Comptroller Jerry barber.

But the comptroller's office says an audit found that the Latham based company bilked the state out of more than $182,000 over a five year period. Owner Tami Callister is the executive director and her husband, Jim, Achievement’s Fiscal Director.

Barber said, "There was airfare, trips to Disney I think it was, other expenses that just didn't fit the appropriateness of a program. They were clearly personal in nature."

Expenses like a $12,000 entertainment system at their home and concert tickets to see Phish and Dave Matthews Band. Officials say the Callisters, whose salaries combined total $286,000 a year, also used public funds to improperly employ their two children and other family members. Officials say strained resources at state ed, which is responsible for oversight, have made it hard to keep track of providers like Achievements.

"They'd gone undetected for some time and that's part of the problem here," Barber said.

While they declined an on camera interview, Tami Callister did release a statement on the findings saying, "Prior to the audit’s initiation, we began an internal review of these issues and we do acknowledge certain deficiencies in the organization’s accounting oversight structure. These deficiencies were corrected prior to the audit and we are confident no similar issue will re-emerge."

For now, though, the case has been referred to the Albany County District Attorney for further action.

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