Feds probe W.Va. foundation

May 11, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Federal authorities are investigating a Martinsburg foundation responsible for handling financial affairs for the elderly and disabled.

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The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources claims the Aurora Foundation Inc. failed to pay bills for some of its clients and never filed an asset inventory for 12 people that the Department of Health and Human Resources referred to Aurora.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Social Security Administration are investigating the foundation, according to the attorney appointed to represent the 12 Department of Health and Human Resources clients.

"It appears that Aurora never did any accounting for those 12 cases," Charles Town, W.Va., attorney John Askintowicz said. "There could be a lot more. At this point we don't know how many people are involved."


Berkeley County Circuit Judge David Sanders has ordered Aurora's King Street offices sealed and has frozen the assets of the foundation's head, Greg Gamble, pending further court action.

A court-appointed attorney will continue to pay bills for Aurora's clients. A Department of Health and Human Resources worker said a state emergency assistance fund can be used to make sure none of the foundation's clients are evicted or lose their utilities.

Aurora began accepting clients in 1995 to handle the finances of people unable to handle their own affairs, Askintowicz said.

Askintowicz is representing the 12 Department of Health and Human Resources clients. He alleges Aurora has no accounting for the finances of his clients.

Without those financial records it will be difficult to gauge how much money his clients might have lost, Askintowicz said.

Sanders has appointed Shepherdstown, W.Va., attorney Frank Hill to comb through Aurora's files in an attempt to determine the foundation's fiscal status.

Hill will act as conservator for Aurora's clients and is trying to determine what bills have to be paid.

The foundation appears to have between 50 and 200 accounts, Hill said.

Aurora has clients around the state of West Virginia, but Hill said he does not know exactly how my people had their finances handled by the foundation.

"This is a tremendous fiasco," Hill said.

There is also some question about the amount of money entrusted to Gamble's foundation.

Mental Hygiene Commission Chief Henry Morrow Jr., whose agency appointed Aurora to oversee the finances of some of its clients, told Sanders the lack of asset inventories for Aurora clients makes it difficult to determine how much the foundation received from each client.

Morrow said he knew of one client who had $70,000.

Sharon Scholz, 50, of Hedgesville, W.Va., said Aurora had been handling her finances since June 1997.

Scholz, who has a bipolar disorder, said she had her $800 monthly Social Security check sent directly to Aurora for payment of her bills.

Last week, Scholz said, she found out she owed the phone company $559 for phone bills dating back to February and owed $300 to the electric company for an overdue bill.

"It's outrageous," said Scholz, who said she should have paid more attention to the statements she was receiving from Aurora.

Gamble was not at Tuesday's hearing, but Gamble's attorney said Gamble would cooperate with any inquiry into the foundation's records.

"He's not on the lam," attorney Craig Manford told Sanders.

Manford said Gamble did not object to the court's decision to name Hill as the conservator for Aurora.

Sanders will listen to arguments Thursday on a request to freeze the assets held by Gamble and his wife, Julia, the foundation's vice president.

Askintowicz said he wanted to make sure the couple still have assets in the event of potential lawsuits in the case.

Hill is expected to give an update on his inquiry into the foundation's records at a hearing set for June 11.

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