A private foster-care agency that allegedly misspent more than $800,000 while paying its executive director more than $297,000 a year should be stripped of its county contract, a Los Angeles County audit released Wednesday concluded.
The report criticized Refugio Para Ninos for using county money to run a fundraising unit that spent nearly $500,000 more than it had raised. Auditors also faulted the agency for using $206,549 to set up a counseling center that paid the agency’s executive director $2,250 a month in addition to what they called his “excessive” salary package from Refugio.
The report follows a similarly critical review in 2000, when auditors also said Executive Director Joseph Steinberg had misspent county funds and paid himself too much.
Steinberg said he was dismayed at the latest recommendation to terminate the county’s contract. The agency, he said, had scored high marks from the county and the state in providing quality care to more than 3,000 foster children it had placed in eight years.
“I think it’s very unfair,” Steinberg said. “Even though the goal was to help the kids ... we’ve discontinued our fundraising department and lending money to the [counseling] clinic.”
Steinberg said his salary was part of a contract extension approved by the county’s Department of Children and Family Services in 2003.
A spokeswoman for the department said officials would review the audit and decide whether to take action against Refugio.
Refugio, based in West Covina, is among 68 private agencies that contract with the county to place about 6,200 children with foster parents. The county’s contract provides $7.5 million a year to Refugio, which pays about half to its foster parents. The agency, which also contracts with Orange and San Bernardino counties, supervises about 425 children in foster care.