Texas AG: Cancer nonprofit owes state $327K

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Associated Press

Posted on April 9, 2013 at 2:05 AM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 9 at 1:32 PM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Scrutiny of a nonprofit that served Texas' troubled cancer-fighting agency escalated Monday when prosecutors determined that $100,000 more in privately raised money is owed to the state than the shuttering foundation told lawmakers.

As the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, known as CPRIT, tries to recover amid questions about its spending of taxpayer dollars, attention has shifted to a nonprofit created to support the agency.

The CPRIT Foundation raised nearly $4 million for efforts that included supplementing the salaries of top public officials at CPRIT. Leaders of the nonprofit told lawmakers last week that the agency's recent woes were too much to overcome, and reported that about $221,000 in unspent donations would be given to CPRIT after expenses were paid.

But in a letter sent to the CPRIT Foundation on Monday, the Texas attorney general's office said a review of financial records suggests the amount owed to the state is closer to $328,000.

The CPRIT Foundation decided in late March to change its name to the Texas Cancer Coalition and sever ties with CPRIT. State prosecutors say that means nearly $150,000 in expenses claimed by the foundation should be disallowed because those costs were incurred after the change in mission.

Marc Palazzo, a spokesman for the foundation, said a meeting has been requested with the attorney general's office to discuss the letter.

"We remain hopeful this matter can be resolved amicably," Palazzo wrote in an email.

The disputed expenses identified by prosecutors include $36,000 for a monthly retainer to Austin-based JHL Co., which is run by Jennifer Stevens, who was the executive director of the CPRIT Foundation. A $20 parking ticket is also listed as a disallowed expense.

Problems at CPRIT include a separate civil investigation by the state attorney general's office, a criminal investigation by Travis County public corruption prosecutors and state lawmakers putting the agency under a spending moratorium.

Lawmakers have criticized the CPRIT Foundation over the fact that the oversight boards of both the agency and nonprofit were staffed by the same members. Private money raised to boost the salaries of top state officials at CPRIT also raised concerns of pay-to-play influence.

The most serious problems for CPRIT came last year with the discovery that an $11 million award to a private company in Dallas entirely bypassed the state's review process. A scathing report from the state auditor earlier this year alleged widespread failings at CPRIT involving transparency, accountability and decision-making.

The foundation is expected to completely cease operations by the end of May.

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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