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 Smith, Son to Repay $10K

July 4, 2007 - More than 18 months after the state demanded they repay more than $30,000 in grant money they were alleged to have improperly taken from a Henry County nonprofit agency, a former local school administrator and her son are expected to pay about one-third of that amount to settle the matter.

Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter told The Banner last week that his Trish Smith, former curriculum director for the Charles A. Beard Memorial School Corporation, and her son, Clint Childress, will pay the state a total of $10,000.

"I think it's resolved," said Carter. "It's just a matter of them getting their money together and paid and some settlement documents have to be created." He said $8,000 of the settlement will be toward what Smith was alleged to have owed, with the other $2,000 being for her son, and that he hoped this would be paid by mid-August. In demand letters issued in early January 2006, Carter's office had called on Smith and Childress to pay, respectively, $22,496.40 and $10,208.34, amounts that came from a State Board of Accounts Audit of ARIES/Henry County LCC, a New Castle-based nonprofit that had employed them. The money had been from grant funds provided to the nonprofit by the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Agency.

According to an SBA's audit issued in December 2005, Smith, who had been the former program coordinator for the nonprofit, had been overpaid for her work and received undocumented compensation. The SBA also said she had been improperly reimbursed for unauthorized expenses involving travel, meals, use of cell phones and other personal expenses. With respect to Childress, the SBA said he had been paid in 2003 and 2004 despite failing to develop a website and do other work he had been hired to do.

"Given the information that we've been able to acquire since receiving the audit, and given the expense that might be involved in future litigation and the uncertainty of that outcome, I think it's a fair resolution," Carter said of the proposed settlement.

Explaining his office's decision to accept less than what the SBA said Smith and Childress should repay, Carter noted that Smith and Childress had presented "significant documentation" after the audit that they had, in fact, done some of the work they were alleged not to have done. He also said his office had to weigh the amount the SBA claimed was owed against the expense his office would incur in trying to recover the money.

"I think that sort of illustrates the role that the Attorney General has when an audit is certified to us," Carter continued. "It's important for us, before we move into a lawsuit, to anticipate what information could be forthcoming in that setting. If we can gather that and factor that into how we proceed, we want to do that." Carter said that the SBA and the ITPCA both supported the decision of his office to accept the $10,000 settlement.

As for the amount of time it took to reach a settlement, Carter said that's something that varies case to case. "It's not unusual for it to take some time to reach a resolution," he said. "We're always trying to do that outside of the courtroom, if possible.

“If you file suit, then you become subject to the court's calendar, and often these matters are drawn out much longer. We're happy that it's going to be resolved without taking that step."

In the event that Smith and Childress fail to follow through with payment of the $10,000 settlement, Carter said his office will still have the option of filing a lawsuit to try to recover the funds. New Castle attorney David Copenhaver, who represents both Smith and Childress with respect to this matter, did not return a message The Banner left at his office.


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