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Union Agency Paying Back Money Missing From Sandy Hook Workers Fund

Frankie Graziano
Connecticut Public Radio
Eric Chester, a spokesman for the Connecticut AFL-CIO, which oversees the United Labor Agency, said the organization has put $103,712 back into the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund. The ULA administers the fund in which the money was unaccounted for.

A state audit requested by a leading Republican lawmaker revealed that funds meant to support workers present at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting did not go where they were supposed to.

In fact, more than $100,000 was unaccounted for.  

The money is supposed to help those affected by the killing of six adults and 20 children at the school on Dec. 14, 2012. That includes first responders, teachers and school support staff.

An audit performed on behalf of House Minority Leader Themis Klarides (R-Derby) found that the United Labor Agency, which administered the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund, must have spent the money meant for workers for something else.

“When you have money and it is dedicated to a charity of such a magnitude -- of any magnitude, quite frankly -- Sandy Hook victims -- that money should be in one place, we should know where the money is going [and] we should know who that money is being used for,” Klarides said.

The ULA is overseen by the AFL-CIO, which says it has replaced the missing money -- $103,712.

But that did not satisfy Klarides, who took a shot at the group by bringing up an infamous Ponzi schemer.

“I don’t think Bernie Madoff had the opportunity to say ‘I’ll put the money back,’” Klarides said.

Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
State Rep. Themis Klarides (R-Derby) spoke Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford regarding the audit she requested into the spending of money from the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund.

Attorney Eric Chester, a spokesperson for the ULA and AFL-CIO, believes that leadership within the two organizations did what they could once they became aware of the spending issue.

“As soon as the board of the ULA became aware of the audit, it took immediate action to correct the matter,” Chester said. “We will continue to examine the audit and look for ways to ensure that the fund is used to assist those workers who need it.”

He said it’s not known exactly what happened to the money, but an investigation into how it was spent is underway. He said the ULA is taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again, such as keeping the SHWAP money separate from the ULA charity budget from now on.

Connecticut lawmakers created the SHWAP fund in 2013 in Special Act No. 13-1, and law required the state judicial branch’s Office of Victim Services to administer the program. On Aug. 31, 2015, the ULA was tapped by OVS to oversee the account, which had over $115,800 in it. Auditors noticed that by June 30, 2018, the account had a balance of $16,088, and with money being depleted from it only $6,323 went to the people who needed it.

“It’s ghastly to think about what was done and whom this money was taken from, but the money was taken -- without the intention of being caught -- from people who had donated charitably to the healing of a profoundly impacted community,” said state Rep. Mitch Bolinsky (R-Newtown).

Bolinsky was the one who alerted Klarides to a possible commingling of funds. He said it all started when two police officers sought money to cover expenses related to treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. According to Bolinsky, the officers said that their requests were denied with no explanation. The executive director of an organization looking out for these officers then allegedly found out about the state of the SHWAP balance and reported it to Bolinsky.  

Chester dismissed those claims, saying that according to the auditor’s report, everyone who applied and was deemed eligible for the money during ULA’s time in charge of the account was accepted.

No action has been taken against anyone involved with overseeing the SHWAP money -- that won’t happen until the investigation is complete, Chester said.

It was not clear whether the Republican lawmakers will pursue a criminal investigation into the ULA's handling of the fund. 

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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