Zurik Investigation leads to federal funding termination

Published: Jun. 21, 2016 at 1:41 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 21, 2016 at 2:28 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The Louisiana Department of Health is beginning the process of removing Alternatives Living from the state Medicaid program.

The non-profit was the subject of a Lee Zurik investigation beginning in 2014 that looked into questionable spending by the group's three main officers: Rickey Roberson; his wife, Ada Craige-Roberson; and her mother, Melanie Duplechain.

The leaders of the organization were indicted on Friday, accused of misusing thousands of dollars.

Zurik's investigation from 2014 coincided with findings from the federal government that alleges the Robersons spent thousands of dollars on sporting events and cruises.

The indictment shows the Alternatives Living non-profit, which was responsible for providing housing to the homeless, displaced, disabled, elderly and mentally ill, received more than $7 million over a six-year period, but the Louisiana Department of Health said the program wasn't cited because of a lack of care.

"The fact of the matter was, to the extent of which the provision of services was happening, it was happening, so where you run into these issues was their business dealings outside of that," said Andrew Tuozzolo, chief of staff for the Department of Health and Hospitals.

Legal Analyst Joe Raspanti said the investigation into Alternatives Living was likely bolstered by Zurik's investigation.

"The feds obviously can't keep up with everybody, although they should, but when you have someone like Lee Zurik, who did this report and basically lays it in their lap, I don't think they had anywhere to go but follow up, and in this case, when they followed up they found what they believe to be the wrongdoing," Raspanti said.

In the investigation, Zurik sat down with Alternatives Living CFO Rickey Roberson, who tried to explain the use of funds.

"It depends on what the charges are - because sometimes, if I'm working while I'm on vacation or something like that, or even if I'm out of town, if I have Internet access that I need to use to handle the company's business, then that's an appropriate charge," Roberson told Zurik. "I don't recall putting any cruises on the credit card that I can remember. However, when we were on vacation, like I said, we may have personal…we may have charges for Internet access and stuff like that - and if we were talking, maybe a meal or something like that."

Now the clients from Alternatives Living will have to shift to a new care provider, something the state is working to make a seamless transition.

"We're really concerned and we're working right now to make sure that those people who were receiving care and receiving care successfully are transitioned into our other programs because these guys, having been indicted and now the department under the secretary has moved forward in cutting them off from Medicaid funding, they're no longer going to be able to get that care, so we want to make sure they're placed elsewhere," Tuozzolo said.

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