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D.C. Job Training Funds Went To Firms In Legal Trouble

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This is 3701 Benning Road NE, Washington D.C., former home of the Heavy Equipment Training Academy -- now a dilapidated building in a vacant lot.
Patrick Madden
This is 3701 Benning Road NE, Washington D.C., former home of the Heavy Equipment Training Academy -- now a dilapidated building in a vacant lot.

Each year, the District awards millions of dollars to outside companies to train out-of-work residents and help place them in full-time jobs. But a review of D.C.'s job training program reveals a trail of double-billing, poor oversight, and allegations of fraud.

In an exclusive interview with WAMU, D.C.'s Director of Employment Services, Lisa Mallory, described the time she discovered the city was paying up to $8,000 per trainee, while the same provider was charging Maryland and Virginia half that.

"In a training provider’s classroom, there was a D.C. resident, there was a Virginia resident and a Maryland resident and we're paying twice as much, same class, same session," says Mallory. "And I was wondering, why is that so? Now, this goes back for years."

Mallory was made permanent director of DOES last May, and the department has since curbed the maximum amount it will pay for its Individual Training Accounts (ITAs) to $4,000. She says she has worked to clean up a system plagued by a lack of auditing and monitoring.

But questions about past DOES oversight practices remain. Mallory acknowledges that it wasn't always clear who was getting trained, how many people were getting trained at each site, and how much of the city's job training budget was going to each contractor.

Records show the largest recipient of funds for the last program year was a firm known as the Heavy Equipment Training Academy, which received nearly $500,000 to train nearly 70 people.

But the field where the academy was located in Northeast D.C. is now empty; the trucks and backhoes are all gone and the building is deserted.

A recent civil lawsuit against the group by a consulting firm accuses the academy's owner, Charles Boston, of using the academy's funds for "personal and non-business related activities." The firm is suing him for hundreds of thousands of dollars for breach of contract.  

Boston could not be reached for comment.

And WAMU found other questionable providers as well, including a group called Business Interface that filed for bankruptcy in 2009 after a $5 million audit claim from the Department of Labor, essentially asking for its money back.

Business Interface owner Rodney Carroll denies any wrongdoing and says the matter has been resolved.

Despite the bankruptcy filing in 2009, city records show Business Interface continued to receive tens of thousands of dollars D.C. job training funds up until early 2011. 

This is the first part in a series investigating D.C.'s job training contracts.

Department of Employment Services FY 2012 Proposed Budget Bankruptcy Filing for Business Interface (See page 15 for Labor Dept. claim)
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