Foster child agency under scrutiny defends itself

Foster child agency under scrutiny defends itself

A newly released audit found multiple weaknesses in the bookkeeping and financial controls of a troubled Milwaukee foster child agency forced to surrender its license by the state.

In an interview, James Pekrul, the head of Foster Care Youth Independence Center of Wisconsin, said that shoddy accounting and record keeping is to blame for the state believing he improperly took thousands of dollars for his personal use.

Pekrul shared a copy of an independent 2010 audit of the relatively small agency that found its financial viability to be uncertain and its financial controls to be inadequate. Pekrul also spoke for the first time about a separate state audit that alleged he had used an agency debit care to make car payments and buy clothing, cable service, music downloads and health club dues for himself and a family member.

Pekrul denied any theft and called it a misunderstanding born of his practice of mingling his agency’s shaky finances with his personal ones.

“At the time when the state came, everything wasn’t in order. I’ll be honest,” Pekrul said.

Pekrul also failed to file and pay taxes on time and document his center's spending, the state audit found.

In the interview, Pekrul said his agency sometimes wasn’t able to pay his salary because of its finances. In those cases, he said sometimes he paid for personal items with the shared agency credit card and deducted that from what he was owed.

Pekrul said he couldn’t simply put his salary in his own checking account because at the time he didn’t have one.

He said the agency made some payments for a car with a title in his name that was used as a vehicle for the agency and the transporting of foster children.

“I did have to have a vehicle,” he said.

Pekrul said he was a former foster child himself. He acknowledged being poor with record-keeping and said that he had employed a bookkeeper who had also done a poor job.

He said he surrendered the agency's foster children license but continues to do work for the Milwaukee Bureau of Child Welfare and Milwaukee County.