Thursday, March 19, 2009

ND Nonprofit Used Federal Disaster Planning Money for Unallowable Items

The Grand Forks Herald reports that nearly a quarter of the federal disaster planning money spent by the North Dakota nonprofit, the North Dakota EMS Association, was used for “unallowable or questionable” items, including alcohol, a state official said.  The North Dakota EMS association, which represents about 1,800 ambulance and emergency workers, also spent money it should not have on lobbying, cell phones, meals, and some salaries and bonuses, an internal association audit and other records obtained by The Associated Press show.

Tim Wiedrich, chief of the North Dakota Health Department’s emergency preparedness and response section, said Wednesday that the “unallowable or questionable” items made up nearly $200,000 of the roughly $810,000 the Bismarck-based group received between 2004 and last year to help produce a plan to fight bioterrorism and other mass disasters.  

Mark Weber, the association’s president, said the group will repay the money, but he defended its motives.  “I think we felt we spent money for the right reasons and that we were spending that money appropriately,” Weber said. “We have nothing to hide. Every dime we spent was to promote EMS.”  But, Weber admitted that some grant money was used for dinner and drinks.  How the group will pay the money back is unclear.  It receives less than $200,000 annually from its other funding sources, including membership, testing, and conferences.   The grant allowed for the bulk of the executive director’s salary to be paid from the federal funds, but Wiedrich said documentation is lacking to support the salary charged to the grant. Records show $217,192 from the grant was given to the group’s executive director, which included salary, health insurance, and a bonus. Wiedrich said an investigation is ongoing, and the grant has expired.  Billings of about $38,500 from the group have been denied, and state officials are working with the federal agency and the EMS Association to figure out exactly how much will have to be repaid, he said.

Bismarck police have asked to review the case, Wiedrich said. He did not know if criminal charges would be filed. Richard Riha, the Burleigh County state’s attorney, said police are still investigating.

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