Learning Experience

by Leslie Turk

With clear evidence Chris Williams was instructing students on the business of politics and claiming those same hours on another government-funded contract, it's time he learned his lesson.

Undoubtedly, an enormous amount of pressure is coming down on UL Lafayette to review the work Chris Williams has been doing at the university since he first secured a full-time job as a political science instructor in January 2008 - a move pulled right from the good ol' boys' playbook that former UL President Ray Authement shamelessly tried to pass off as an emergency appointment. Authement hired Williams just as he was preparing to leave the Lafayette City-Parish Council.

In August 2008, Williams was transferred to the UL Department of Special Services, where he now works full-time during the day as a counselor in the Upward Bound and Talent Search programs. The Independent Weekly first uncovered a 40-hour per week contract Williams had (until he was fired from it Aug. 13) with the Lafayette Housing Authority as a case manager for the federal Disaster Housing Assistance Program, for which his compensation increased from $11 an hour in 2007 to $37 an hour, and also revealed that he works for the nonprofit community group SMILE through another contract funded by federal stimulus dollars. With his UL salary of $41,000 (plus $2,000 each semester for teaching a night class), and DHAP and SMILE contracts, Williams' herculean workload amounted to about $200,000 a year.

And while UL President Joe Savoie would not comment on Williams' future, he did confirm that an inquiry is under way.
"The university is working with the [Louisiana] Legislative Auditor, reviewing all relevant records," Savoie says. "When that review is complete, we will respond as warranted. I can't move until I know what reality is."

It won't be difficult to find discrepancies, as records from the LHA reveal that Williams, who began turning in time sheets for his 40-hour-per-week case-management job for the DHAP only after auditors raised red flags about the program, claimed to be two places at one time. While Williams was teaching a political science class from 6 p.m. to 8:50 p.m. on Tuesdays during the spring semester, which started in January and ended in May, he also claimed to be working on the LHA contract from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., according to his time sheets. Our review found 11 days he would have had to be both places. In the fall of 2009, he taught another political science class on Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 8:50 p.m. (the same one he is now teaching) - presumably at the same time he was helping residents displaced by hurricanes.

The issue of disclosure is yet another area causing problems for Williams at UL, as all full-time UL employees are required by UL System policy to annually disclose any outside work. The form requires employees to report the name and address of the outside employer, a description of the activity and whether it presents any conflict with the employee's duties at the university or government code of ethics.

On his July 2010-June 2011 disclosure to UL, Williams noted outside work with a time commitment of 0-20 hours per week with the Lafayette Training and Career Development Center, depending on "if company has a contract." He identifies LTCDC as a "non-profit since 1988." LTCDC, a 501c3 tax-exempt organization, is his company.

What he failed to report was that the LHA contract required him - not anyone else at LTCDC - to work 40 hours as a case manager for the federal program. On his disclosure form from the year before, he only noted working "evenings/weekends."
Williams' LTCDC, which signed another contract with SMILE in January, took in $172,200 in grants for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 and showed $175,000 in expenses. It's unclear whether he claimed the $77,000 he got annually in DHAP money (plus up to $600 a month in car allowance) as a grant and if it could legally qualify because it was a fee-for-service contract.

In 2008, the training center reported $89,000 in grants and $75,000 in expenses; in 2007 it had $68,822 in grants and $68,444 in expenses. The bulk of the expenses are classified as "program expenses," though there is no breakdown for how much of the money goes to salaries.

Professional CPA firms retained to conduct independent audits of the LTCDC since at least 2004 faced challenges in completing their work due to the lack of information available or provided to them. In each of several independent auditors' reports on the LTCDC, it is noted that the company's management omitted all disclosures as well as the statement of cash flows required by generally accepted accounting principles. "If the omitted disclosures and statement cash flows were included in the financial statements, they might influence the user's conclusion about the organization's financial position, results of operations and cash flows," reads the January 2010 audit report.

Click here to view the audit reports

CPA Kenneth T. Toups, in auditing the nonprofit's 2005 financials, said the center had received correspondence from the Internal Revenue Service for not filing Form 990 - the IRS form required to retain tax-free status. The IRS is in the process of cracking down on nonprofits and in October will begin revoking the tax-exempt status of any organization that has failed to submit the form three years in a row. Than means it cannot accept tax-deductible contributions, apply for grants, or apply for special discounts.

Williams' LTCDC is on the IRS' list of "Exempt Organizations at Risk of Revocation."

But the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations warns against reading too much into its appearance on the list. "Please note that non-compliance with this rule is widespread [more than 5,000 Louisiana organizations are listed] and indicates nothing by itself," Matthew Mullenix, vice president of public relations for LANO, writes in an email response. "Many upstanding organizations are simply unaware, which is partly why the IRS has extended the deadline several times this year."