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Review: Ministry spent money properly

| Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2001, 12:00 p.m.

Allegheny County Controller Dan Onorato said Monday that he has found "no evidence of significant fraud or mismanagement" in a follow-up review of Light of Light Ministries but said the North Side agency is stretching itself too thin.

Onorato's review of the financially troubled ministry's operations for fiscal year 2000 followed earlier probes by an independent auditor and the state Attorney General's Office. The investigation was sparked by employees' allegations of financial mismanagement.

Light of Life, a nondenominational mission, has been providing food, shelter, clothing and other services for the homeless and needy for nearly 50 years. The ministry, which operates on a $5.7 million annual budget, is supported mainly by donations and government grants, including $410,000 from Allegheny County for 2000.

"We looked at our money, and it was all spent on the appropriate programs," Onorato said, adding that the ministry's $750,000 debt is attributable to "just sloppy internal controls."

The Rev. Robert Veitch, interim executive director of the ministry, did not return calls for comment yesterday.

Onorato's report found that Light of Life is working to fix overcrowding and other internal problems; however, the agency "might not be equipped to handle the volume of programs it administers and the number of clients it serves."

Light of Life has corrected three of the 11 operational problems pointed out in an independent audit of the ministry for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2000, Onorato has found. The ministry is in the process of correcting another five of the problems but has yet to address the other three.

The 11 problem areas were identified in an audit undertaken by the ministry's accounting firm, Maher Duessel.

In separate probes by Maher Duessel, the country controller and the state attorney general, investigators looked into reports of inadequate program oversight, inflated reports of meal distribution and a pattern of dismissing employees who questioned fiscal practices.

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