LOWELL — The former head of a private special-education school in Pawtucketville accused of misusing $1.7 million in state money maintains his innocence, and wants to stay on as a $125-per-hour consultant at the school.
Former Riverside School Executive Director Frank Adamo is accused of using taxpayer money for lobster dinners, Red Sox season tickets and car perks, according to an audit released Monday.
Adamo said he used the money properly and will challenge the results of the audit with his lawyer.
“There is definitely a process to talk about the audit results, and we’re going to pursue this,” said Adamo, 55, reached at his Lynnfield home last night.
Asked to clarify the process and discuss any inaccuracies in the report, Adamo referred the questions to his lawyer, Bruce A. Singal of Boston. Singal said in a statement they are looking into clearing the company’s name.
“At the present time, New England Human Services is considering all its options, including how to clarify and correct what it believes are significant mischaracterizations of its financial management of the Riverside School. NEHS recognizes, however, that that this will likely be a lengthy and time-consuming process, and asks that its supporters understand and remain patient,” Singal wrote. “NEHS looks forward to the day when the record can be set straight, and NEHS’s good name and reputation can be fully restored.”
State agencies are considering further action against Adamo, who ran the school as head of the nonprofit organization New England Human Services Inc.
Adamo allegedly spent $181,901 on fringe benefits such as life insurance, $103,805 on personal loans that didn’t have any accompanying paper work, and $430,000 for rent for the school, which was paid to another company owned by Adamo.
The school is now run by another nonprofit group. North American Family Institute took over in the summer of 2004 after results of the audit came to light.
The new company kept Adamo on as a consultant, and will pay him up to $125,000 a year until 2009.
Current Executive Director Steve Hahn said he’s considering whether to continue to keep Adamo on.
“Like everyone else, we want to review the audit and sort through the issues,” Hahn said. “He’s not a manager and he doesn’t have any decision-making powers. Despite whatever management issues came to light, our use of him is not in that arena. We utilize him as a consultant on special-education issues.”
The four-man board of directors at the school was responsible for keeping a watchful eye on state spending, said Glenn Briere, a spokesman for state Auditor Joseph DeNucci. DeNucci said the school’s actions smack of “gluttony.”
“The oversight has to come from the board of directors from these agencies, and in this case, the board of directors did not fulfill its oversight,” Briere said.
Three of the four members were from Lynnfield, and one of them lived on the same street as Adamo. None of the former board members was available for comment.
Attorney General Thomas Reilly’s office is looking at whether charges should be filed against the company or Adamo. Officials with the Department of Social Services are considering whether they should demand their money back.
DSS put the most money into the school, which houses male students ages 7 to 16 who have behavioral problems and have been identified as special-education children. The school also received money from local cities and towns, the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Education.
DSS spokeswoman Denise Monteiro said the agency went though a state bidding process and hired Adamo’s company, but said they aren’t responsible for overseeing the way their dollars are spent.
“We’re involved to make sure kids are safe and make sure kids are well-educated,” Monteiro said. “We don’t audit, we don’t check their books. That’s why these random audits are great.”
The school faced difficulty when it began in 1999 because neighbors said they weren’t properly informed about it. It faced criticism again in 2003 when the Department of Education released a report detailing the use of unqualified teachers at the school. The school has since complied with DOE standards, DOE spokesman Nate Mckinnon said.
Staff writer Rebecca Deusser contributed to this report.