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Allegations of Malfeasance at Lake Grove School...Again

Friday, April 26, 2013

WNYC

In a report to be released today, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s Office accused two nonprofit residential schools for special education students -- the Lake Grove School and Mountain Lake Children’s Residence – of billing state and local government agencies for $7.7 million in inappropriate or unsupported costs over a four year period.

While troubling, such allegations are nothing new for the operators of the schools, which are part a larger network of nonprofits all managed by the same Long Island-based company.

At its peak, the Lake Grove School network included schools in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts for special education students and adolescents with severe emotional problems, and sober homes for adults. The network has shriveled over the years under official scrutiny and sanctions.

Since 2001, Connecticut shut down two Lake Grove schools in that state for dangerous conditions. In 2005, New York forced the network to close its sober homes. And, in 2008 and 2009, New York’s Office of the Medicaid Inspector General ordered Lake Grove affiliates to repay nearly $7 million in Medicaid funds that had been mishandled.

To date, the state has only recouped a little more than $30,000. And yet government money has continued to allow the network to limp along – and pay some executives sizable salaries.

The problems at Lake Grove are part of a larger issue in New York, which relies heavily on private special education providers, said Mark Johnson, a spokesman for the Comptroller’s Office.

“It’s a big sector. It’s about $2 billion a year - $1.3 billion of that is from the state, the rest is made up from localities – and it needs a sharper watchdog watching over where this money is going,” Johnson said.

The comptroller’s report faults the New York State Education Department and the Office of Children and Family Services for failing to adequately oversee reimbursement to the schools and their management arm.

The man who founded the Lake Grove School network, his wife and his for-profit companies made millions from the organization, which he built from a single school on Long Island.

The Lake Grove School was once an elite boarding school for the kids of Broadway stars. But when Albert Brayson II took over in the 1970’s, enrollment was down. He opened the doors to troubled kids the state, local school districts and county social service agencies would pay the school to educate.

His successor, John Claude Bahrenburg, was one of the highest paid nonprofit executives on Long Island, with more than $560,000 in compensation in 2009. Even board members – typically volunteer positions – drew money.

The Lake Grove School currently has about 50 residential students from around the state. Kids are placed at Lake Grove by their local school districts, social service agencies and the courts.

At least two New York City kids have allegedly been raped by classmates at Lake Grove over the past decade, according to lawsuits filed against the school. WNYC asked the New York City Department of Education why it continues to pay the school to care for its most difficult students given that history.

The district provided a prepared statement:

“The DOE is committed to ensuring that the needs of students with disabilities are met in our public schools so that they are well-prepared for college, careers, and independent living. In the small number of cases where it is determined that the needs of a student cannot be met at a public school, the student can only be placed by the D.O.E. at a private school that has been approved by the New York State Education Department. Some students are placed at these state-approved schools at the request of parents through Impartial Hearing Orders. These private schools must also meet the licensing requirements and other standards set by the education department of the state in which they’re located.”

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Comments [11]

Eileen from As a f

As a former student I am appalled by what the state let happen to a school. I was a student before the it was sold out to the government who then let it be run by a private company. The one who should have had to pay was those in charge of the finances at the schools. The children had nothing to do with it. When i went my school district paid a certain amount for the year and I went for almost 3 years. nothing inappropriate ever happened probably because the peoploe cared and it was private then.

Aug. 19 2014 05:52 PM
Riverhead dorm former student

As bad as this school may seemed it wasn't that bad if you actullay gave it a chance. Over course there was that feed w staff and students that weren't the best but every where we go there's gonna be somebody like that. I hate the fact that people diss this school so much... Honestly this school really helped a changed me... Made me a stronger person. staff went out of there way to try and help those kids who always wanted help they should of never shut this place down. I was one of thelastkids there and I'm to say that i i was a student there

Dec. 19 2013 12:47 AM
former student at LGS from United States

MY STAFF WERE WONDERFUL ALTHOUGH WE barely had t had things to do at time. I still talk to my friends and we keep in and we keep in touch lake grove really wa really wasn't that bad of a place because we still have each other so I don't know what everybody's talking about trying to bad mouth this place but I got the most of it and that's the good part

Oct. 11 2013 01:13 AM
Gordon Duffus

I suppose that I was one of THOSE 'troubled youth' who, in 1963, came to Lake Grove. The education was good, my girlfriend was fine,and it was a real experience. I can't find any of my classmates on-line as ... the school became 'something-else' after I left there......

Sep. 24 2013 06:31 PM

I am a former student that was there when Twoey & Barbara paid a student to burn down the school for insurance money. They told the student they would give him $5000, but instead they reported him to the crooked Police Dept, and no one would listen to the student. He actually got locked up for it.

They would keep our allowance money, Ray would over drug students, some students boys/girls were molested by Staff, and they would even take students to get abortions. The caring Staff that would speak up to try to protect us, would get fired.

My understanding that new management took over years ago. However, according to the more current students comments on Facebook & previous articles about the school, it hasn't improved much.

They should have been shut that place down & people should have went to jail!!

Jul. 08 2013 01:41 AM
Lawyer Bahrenburg

Back in the 80's I had occasion to deal with Bahrenburg, who at that time was the attorney for Lake Grove. He was a dirt bag then and apparently not much has changed. His big claim to fame at that time was that he was a former ADA in the Bronx DA's office. He thought he was hot s---. Believe me he wasn't. Just a low class, gutter attorney who was in the game for the money he could earn or steal or get anyway he could. Great choice for their leader. Everyone gets rich off the State's dime.

Jun. 21 2013 10:37 AM
Gina Covello

My daughter has been attending Lake grove school for about 2 years now. I take offense to the comment of "undesirables" and think who ever you are who said that needs help. I can say the staff is wonder full and my child went from 0 to graduating with a regents diploma. Its a shame if this school closes.

Jun. 12 2013 01:58 PM
viper from Lake Grove

As a former employee of the school all I have to say is that is its a sham. Someone or some people are lining their pockets (out of state mind you) with our hard earned taxes to support such a screwed up school. There is no education curriculum being taught to these undesirables they all belong in Juvie. Get what I mean? Some of the staff have arrest records covered by corporate BS. Trust me don't send your kid to this school you'll be sorry you did. Management is truly in it for the dollar "not the kids" believe me. They're all out for themselves to see who can stuff their pockets heavier.

May. 02 2013 09:44 PM
Former Employee

I have worked at one of the schools in question, and I have worked in mental health in several states and different capacities. Residential facilities are an ugly business in general, but this particular operation was one of the worst I've seen. I bore witness to a legacy of staff aggression at this agency, for what its worth. I was a whistle blower when asked to lie on a police report as well. Unfortunately trying to run a 50 bed residential unit in upstate NY is difficult when you don't have a decent employee pool to choose from, and you often settle on people who simply wont quit. And for years residential counselors made no more than $10 an hour. I can assure you that this article's author touches on only a fraction of the sexual misconduct, and ignores the history of physical and psychological abuse these kids endured. As far as money goes, at the staff-student end there was little to go around. I suspect that money was blown by the folks up top.

Apr. 27 2013 10:09 AM
Janice Rossi

Of course a reporter isn't going to reveal his/her sources. With that said, this sounds like a bunch of hogwash being spewed by a former, or dare I suggest, a current employee. I doubt you would find a school or residential treatment facility where wrongdoings don't occur. We hear about them almost weekly from public schools across Long Island and New York City. It's the nature of the business. I can say first hand that we do everything we can to prevent these issues from reoccuring. As for "malfeasance", I ask the author of this article to find me a company where and individual or group of executives isn't doing something a bit unethical. Stop trying to cost hard working people their jobs and kids in need a place to learn and grow.

Apr. 27 2013 07:48 AM
Windwood from Lake Grove

It would have been fair to note Windwood's response to the report ... which was included in the report (http://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093013/09s90.pdf):

"The new management teams have initiated a new budget process that begins with the licensed capacity in accordance with state reimbursement parameters. This procedure has included budget spending reductions. There is some confusion as to why the entire $5.4 million in management fees were disallowed or deemed inappropriate. Resources were expended and services were provided by Windwood Meadow for the management of the schools. As indicated in the Draft Report,Windwood Meadow is the management company responsible for all business/back office functions and corporate governance of Lake Grove School. These functions include bookkeeping, accounts payable, accounts receivable billing, employee benefit management, nsurance monitoring and maintenance, legal and record retention. The expenses associated with these functions include, but are not limited to payroll, fringe benefits, office and computer supplies, equipment, utilities and rent. While this report disallowed 100% of the management fees, some of these expenses are appropriate and fully reimbursable according to the SOP Manual."

Apr. 26 2013 01:36 PM

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