The Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) tells Channel 2 Action News it has taken steps to make sure it is less vulnerable to another massive fraud like we reported last week. But Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher says these are not the first problems for a little-known agency that is supposed to provide assistance for thousands of disabled Georgians.
GVRA Executive Director Chris Wells declined to sit down for an interview with Channel 2 this week, but he spoke candidly about the agency’s problems delivering services when he took over GVRA in June 2020.
“If you do a Google search, you can see what’s out there. It’s going to be hard, and I’m under no illusion that it’s not going to be hard,” Wells said at the time.
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He was replacing Shawn Ryan, whose appraisal of GVRA’s performance was blunt. Months before Wells took over, we asked Ryan to describe the calls he gets from Georgians who need vocational rehabilitation services. “Overwhelmingly negative,” Ryan said.
Also in 2020, an independent review ordered by Ryan concluded about GVRA:
The agency is bloated and top-heavy. Data is incomplete, unavailable and unreliable. Staff say they spend 30% of their time just on documentation. And 80% of staff says they don’t feel prepared to work with clients with disabilities.
That’s what Chris Wells inherited. This year has brought new and far more public problems.
Channel 2 broke the story that GVRA Communications Director Robin Folsom resigned after a co-worker suspected Folsom had faked being pregnant to get benefits to which she was not entitled. Folsom pleaded guilty to identity fraud and agreed to repay about $12,000.
Search the words “Robin Folsom pregnancy” on Google, and you’ll get nearly 2.5 million hits. That was just the most spectacular distraction in a distracting year for GVRA.
Last month, we reported the agency had fired two employees for a scheme that overpaid a client $53,000 in college tuition money. That client happened to be the daughter of a GVRA counselor.
Then, just last week, former GVRA counselor Karen Lyke indicated through her lawyer she will to plead guilty to federal charges of creating at least a dozen fake disability clients to defraud the GVRA of about $1.3 million. The case is being prosecuted in federal court because much of GVRA’s funding comes from Washington.
These 2022 cases probably weren’t what the GVRA boss expected when he spoke with Channel 2 two years ago about turning things around at GVRA.
“It’s going to be an opportunity for us to grow together, and there are going to be some learning pains, but we are going to be here, and we’re going to get through it,” he said.
Wells declined to be interviewed for this story, citing the ongoing criminal investigation involving Lyke and an as-yet-unnamed family member.
The agency sent a statement that it has improved internal controls to reduce the likelihood that another “rogue counselor” could create fake clients.
The Office of the (state) Inspector General investigated all three cases that we reported this year. Inspector General Scott McAfee confirms that GVRA referred its concerns to his office and assisted with the investigations.
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