February 19, 2011; Source: NJ.com | A New Jersey nonprofit that gets millions from the state to assist people with developmental disabilities ran into rough waters following an audit that found some of that money paid for staffers and agency clients to take cruises to the Caribbean and Mediterranean. NJ.com reports that as a result of those pleasure trips, plus other disallowed expenses, Allies Inc. of Hamilton has been docked $350,000.
The group has until June 30, when its fiscal year ends, to repay the state that money. Allies received $45 million from New Jersey in 2007 and 2008 to provide housing as well as recreation and job training programs for some 208 adults with disabilities such as autism and Down syndrome. A state audit for those two years found that Allies spent more than $100,000 on the two cruises for 112 staffers and some agency clients, as well on other expenses it couldn't justify. These included dinners and hotel stays as well as $1,999 for a GPS for the car driven by the group's CEO.
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When the expenditures for the cruises first surfaced in 2009, Allies spokesperson Donald Tretola justified them – in what can only be described as "spin" – as part of the agency's work to help its special-needs clients. "We give them opportunities to travel and explore the world around them, witness the beauty of art through shows and plays, see movies, go to restaurants – enjoy the fun part of life," he sad. Last week, a more chastened Tretola said Allies was "not completely clear on permissible expenditures’’ and since has begun taking steps to implement "improved policies and procedures."—Bruce Trachtenberg