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Nebraska Attorney General now says he’ll explore whether the state was a victim of fraud in Saint Francis contract

By: - September 2, 2022 2:19 pm
Saint Francis Ministries

The Salina, Kansas-based Saint Francis Ministries, which provides foster care services, sued its former leadership in January for alleged legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duties. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

LINCOLN – Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson indicated Friday he will evaluate the state’s legal options in pursuing funds that may have been fraudulently spent via the state’s contract with a Kansas foster care provider.

Peterson responded to a request by State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha to explore whether Saint Francis Ministries defrauded the State of Nebraska during its failed child welfare contract.

Attorney General Doug Peterson
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson
(Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

Contract ended

The state severed its contract with Saint Francis in December 2021, after the organization failed to fulfill its obligations to 2,500 foster children it oversaw in eastern Nebraska. The failure came despite an additional $110 million in emergency funding from the state.

The request Thursday by Cavanaugh, who has led criticism of the contract with Kansas-based Saint Francis, comes on the heels of revelations by Kansas Reflector.

State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh
State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha (Courtesy of Nebraska Unicameral Information Office)

Kansas Reflector recently reported the FBI moved to seize assets of a subcontractor of Saint Francis, WMK Research, and its owner, William Whymark, after it was discovered that Whymark had submitted millions of dollars of fraudulent invoices to Saint Francis. The invoices inflated Whymark’s expenses as well as the information technology work he claimed to have performed.

Cavanaugh said Nebraska, in the interest of its taxpayers, needs to explore if it was also a victim of fraud and whether it should be pursuing reimbursement of funds it spent.

Appreciates response

The senator said she appreciated the response from the attorney general.

“They gave me a response fairly quickly,” Cavanaugh said Friday. “I’m hopeful that means they agree that there’s something worth looking into.”

A spokeswoman for Peterson had declined to comment on Thursday.

But in an email to Cavanaugh on Friday, Peterson said he would “sit down with a team of lawyers to evaluate our legal options” based on the recent information.

Cavanaugh said it’s particularly important that the Attorney General’s Office explore this issue before Peterson, who did not seek reelection, leaves office in January.

Saint Francis sues

Saint Francis, the largest foster care provider in Kansas, has sued its former leadership, alleging they hid the misspending of millions of dollars from its board of directors.

Federal investigators, in court documents, have identified nearly $11 million in billing to Sant Francis as probably fraudulent.

Saint Francis Ministries has taken issue with an Aug. 12 story by Kansas Reflector, calling portions of it “inaccurate” and “false.” But Saint Francis would not, when asked, identify specific statements in question.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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