DCFS says Maryville owes nearly $1 mil.

Chicago Sun-Times/August 31, 2005
By Chris Fusco and Tim Novak

The state's child-welfare system plans to yank more cash and responsibilities from Maryville Academy in the wake of new questions about the way the well-known institution has been spending taxpayer dollars.

Maryville needs to repay taxpayers nearly $1 million after a state review of Maryville's recently submitted 2004 financial audit, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director Bryan Samuels said Tuesday.

The audit troubled DCFS officials so much, Samuels said, that they've demanded that Maryville have its accountants scour financial records going back three more years -- to 2001. Samuels believes that examination will show that Maryville owes the state even more than the $953,628 it now wants back.

"It's reasonable to assume the number will be a lot bigger," Samuels said. "We don't have any reason to believe similar practices weren't being engaged in '03, '02 or '01."

Maryville says it owes much less

State payments to Maryville have dropped significantly in recent years. Maryville got $62 million from taxpayers in 2003. That figure is expected to drop below $18.5 million this year.

The financial practices came to light because of worries by Maryville's board of directors last year that the state wasn't giving Maryville enough money to cover program costs. So Maryville hired accounting firm Grant Thornton to go over its books, which have been audited for years by another firm, Deloitte & Touche.

In recent interviews, Maryville officials contended the mistakes Grant Thornton found in 2004 were bookkeeping errors that should have shown Maryville owing the state about $520,000. Sister Catherine Ryan, Maryville's executive director, said her staff continues to believe that number is a more accurate total of what Maryville owes the state.

Another closing on the way

Ryan also said that she would hope Deloitte's past audits of Maryville wouldn't yield the kinds of problems uncovered by Grant Thornton in the 2004 audit.

Samuels said DCFS is troubled by the audit because it appears some taxpayer dollars ended up in Maryville's nearly $160 million cash reserve and were not spent on program expenses as required. For example, the Grant Thornton records show "fictitious expense amounts for salaries" for Maryville's former chief, the Rev. John P. Smyth, and his assistant, the Rev. David Ryan, being charged to the state and then being turned over to Maryville.

Maryville board Chairman Charles Walsh said the term "fictitious" was an overstatement. Smyth and Ryan, he said, donated their services to Maryville, and the donations weren't properly recorded.

Maryville is affiliated with the Archdiocese of Chicago, but operates as a separate not-for-profit. Its board hired Sister Ryan, a veteran juvenile justice lawyer, in November 2004 to replace Smyth as director.

Smyth is credited with building Maryville into a national model for treating troubled children. But he balked at reforming Maryville's campuses after it became apparent to state officials that too many kids in Maryville's care were getting into fights, having sex or running away.

Samuels on Tuesday praised Ryan's efforts to try to turn around Maryville, but the audit plus the arrest last week of an employee at a Maryville campus in Bartlett for allegedly sexually assaulting a girl have DCFS concerned Maryville no longer can perform its biggest job: operating a large emergency shelter for state wards on the North Side.

DCFS plans to shut down that shelter, known as Columbus Maryville, within the next year and have multiple providers share the work. Maryville could be among them, Samuels said.

Side Bar:

The Maryville Saga

Sept. 5, 2002: A Sun-Times special report details Maryville's struggle to control youths at its main campus in Des Plaines.

  • After more incidents at Maryville -- including the rape of an 11-year-old girl by two boys, ages 11 and 12 -- DCFS stops sending state wards to the main campus.
  • Maryville discloses that the FBI is subpoenaing its records. A part of the probe includes the February 2002 suicide of a 14-year-old Maryville resident and whether Maryville officials altered reports about what happened.
  • State shuts down Maryville's main campus. Plans to turn it into an education center for older state wards fail.
  • The Rev. John P. Smyth resigns as Maryville's executive director.

Nov. 29, 2004: Sister Catherine Ryan, a Franciscan nun and veteran juvenile justice lawyer, takes over as executive director.

  • A staffer at Maryville's Bartlett campus allegedly sexually assaults a 16-year-old developmentally disabled girl. DCFS probes alleged inappropriate sexual behavior by another employee at a Maryville campus near Rockford. DCFS officials raise concerns about Maryville's spending of tax dollars based on a 2004 audit.

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