- The Washington Times - Friday, April 30, 2004

The D.C. government has filed a lawsuit seeking to recoup more than $300,000 from a Southeast nonprofit group that city investigators recently accused of selling free meals to the elderly poor in Southeast.

The lawsuit accuses Senior Citizens Counseling & Delivery Service Inc. and its executive director, Concha Johnson, of charging low-income, elderly residents for free meals and day-care services that were paid for by the city government.

Frederick D. Cooke Jr., attorney for the group, yesterday disputed the accusations. He said he is drafting a formal response to the complaint.

“My client does not believe that any false or fraudulent claims were submitted to the District of Columbia,” Mr. Cooke said. “We intend to file an answer to that effect. We believe that during the course of this litigation, we will be vindicated.”

The D.C. Office of Aging has paid about $1.9 million in grant funds to Senior Citizens Counseling since 2000 to provide free meals and other services to elderly low-income residents in Ward 8.

The District’s lawsuit, filed by the D.C. Office of Corporation Counsel on April 9, accuses Mrs. Johnson and Senior Citizens Counseling & Delivery Service Inc. of violating the District’s False Claims Act.

The city’s complaint accuses the nonprofit organization of conspiracy to defraud the D.C. government, common law fraud and unjust enrichment.

According to the lawsuit, Senior Citizens Counseling submitted fraudulent claims for payment to the District from 2001 to 2003 for meals paid for by D.C. grant funds.

The lawsuit also accuses the group of charging senior citizens to participate in a geriatric day-care program that already was paid for with D.C. grant funds. The inspector general said the group charged residents up to $250 per month.

The inspector general’s report recommended that city officials recover $298,066 from the organization. It also accused the group of selling meals to ineligible recipients, including Maryland residents. However, the city lawsuit seeks to recoup approximately $350,000 from the group.

Officials at the D.C. Office on Aging, which requested an inspector general’s audit of Senior Citizens Counseling in November 2002, decided on April 2 to halt month-to-month funding of the group.

However, Mrs. Johnson said on April 8 that her organization is appealing the funding cutoff. “We will not let a wrong-headed bureaucratic action rob Ward 8 of the services our community desperately needs,” she said at the time.

Mrs. Johnson also promised the public “a carefully prepared, detailed and fact-based rebuttal” of the finding in the report.

“We have never charged eligible seniors for our services. Any allegation to the contrary is totally false.”

Meanwhile, the Office on Aging announced earlier this week that the Greater Washington Urban League would provide services previously offered by Senior Citizens Counseling until Sept. 30.

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