Here we go again.
As we enter the season of giving, it seems that employees of a Mississippi-based accounting firm with a lucrative Florida contract have allegedly been caught gifting themselves funds intended to help citizens in need. The firm, Horne LLP, is currently facing possible investigation following reports that some employees intentionally mismanaged the administration of a federal $147 million relief fund for Louisiana homeowners, receiving money themselves from the very grant program they were contracted to administer for individuals in actual need.
It’s a story we’ve seen and written about before. The record shows that this same firm had another pocket-lining scandal in West Virginia back in 2018. This pattern should surely be cause for concern here in Florida since the state recently shelled out $1.5 million to hire consultants to evaluate insurance rating agencies — resulting in a big win for the Horne firm at a time when their recent internal woes should create a pause in the Florida market.
Here’s the background on the firm’s Louisiana scheme scandal: The Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management contracted with Horne to handle the Louisiana Homeowner Assistance Fund — essentially, a federal taxpayer-funded COVID relief grant program. According to a copy of the document, the contract is worth as much as $6 million to the company.
The fund is meant to aid homeowners who took significant financial hits from COVID-19, supplying up to $25,000 for low- to moderate-income families that are behind on their mortgages and at risk of foreclosure.
Unfortunately, it seems at least $600,000 allegedly was misallocated to Horne employees — that’s upward of 24 grants that should have gone to Louisianans who could lose their homes.
Last month, Louisiana Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne confirmed that the state realized something “didn’t look right” following a “routine audit” of the program conducted in early November. He said he was notified at once and brought the concerns to the legislative auditor and the East Baton Rouge District Parish District Attorney’s Office.
Yet it appears the State of Louisiana is continuing to use Horne’s services to administer the program, despite this seeming glaring betrayal of trust. Something tells me that Louisianans hoping for relief for their claims would be far less forgiving of this apparent financial scam.
Now, according to a report in the Insurance Journal, the Florida Department of Financial Services is aware of the concerns about Horne and says it will monitor the situation closely.
The bottom line is that accounting firms have a duty to design and implement necessary internal controls, particularly when it comes to transparency, trust, and protecting the public interest and taxpayers’ dollars. The Horne accounting firm seems to have, yet again, neglected to set up and adhere to processes that would prevent fraudulent activities.
While the consequences of the firm’s Grinch-like actions are falling on Louisianans this holiday season, we’ve also seen them hurt West Virginians far too recently.
Perhaps it’s time to consider what Florida officials — state and local — should do to protect our citizens from potentially being the next unwary victims of sketchy, untrustworthy behavior posing as relief angels in the Sunshine State.