Lawmaker: Kansas should cut ties with foster care contractor

Nov 16, 2022, 9:22 AM | Updated: 11:26 am
Kansas state Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, presides as chair over a meeting of the Legislature's ...

Kansas state Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, presides as chair over a meeting of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Concannon wants to end the state's contract with its largest foster care contractor after two former executives were accused of scheming to defraud the organization. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

(AP Photo/John Hanna)

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — The head of a Kansas legislative panel wants to end the state’s contract with its largest foster care contractor, after two former executives were accused of scheming to defraud the organization out of at least $4.7 million.

The federal indictments this month against the Rev. Robert Smith, the former CEO of Saint Francis Ministries, and William Whymark, its former chief information officer, capped a string of problems with the group, including children being forced to sleep in offices and workers falsifying documents to show visits with families that never took place.

“I am horrified at the level of devious behavior by Saint Francis,” state Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican and the chair of the Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight, said before a meeting Wednesday.

“The more we find out, the more we realize we don’t know! They do not deserve to continue a partnership with the state of Kansas in any capacity,” she said.

Saint Francis Ministries, which sued Smith, Whymark and its former chief counsel earlier this year in an attempt to recover money, said in a statement that it respects the criminal justice system to resolve the matter.

“We do not wish to interject any comments that might interfere with justice or the due process of the accused,” the group said.

Mike Deines, a spokesman with the Kansas Department for Children and Families, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Late last year, Nebraska did what Concannon proposed and announced that it was terminating its contract with Saint Francis to oversee the care of abused and neglected children in two Omaha-area counties.

Saint Francis had been exceeding Nebraska’s caseload requirements and ultimately conceded that it had underbid its contract with the state. It had to ask for more money. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that it was a mutual decision to transition those management duties back to the state.

Saint Francis, which also operates in Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas, has sought to distance itself from Smith and Whymark since they left in 2020 after a whistleblower came forward.

But the wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering charges have thrust past scandals back into the news. The charges carry a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison.

In the indictment, prosecutors allege that Smith hired Whymark’s company to help revamp Saint Francis’ IT systems and then approved inflated invoices.

Whymark, 50, of Mount Kisco, New York, is accused of using the the fraudulently obtained funds to help pay for a roughly $4 million home, luxury vehicles and jewelry, and to make cash withdrawals.

Smith, meanwhile, used company credit cards to withdraw cash and pay for clothing, jewelry and family trips, the indictment says.

Smith, 50, previously filed a counterclaim against Saint Francis officials alleging defamation. His attorney, Lance Sandage, didn’t immediately reply to a phone message seeking comment.

Smith has taken a leave of absence from Christ Cathedral in Salina, where he went to work after leaving Saint Francis. The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, which oversees Smith, had restricted his ability to serve as a priest for part of the time he was there. After the indictment, the diocese barred him from any ministerial duties or having any access to church funds.

Mark Cowell, who hired Smith and serves as the bishop of the western Kansas diocese, asked for prayer and “that justice be done.”

No attorney is listed for Whymark in online court records.

The Kansas foster care system has long been beset with problems. Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, has vowed to make changes to the system and called for an investigation into the death of Cedric Lofton, a 17-year-old who was restrained face down for more than 40 minutes in 2021 at a Wichita juvenile intake center after his foster father called begging for help because the teen was hallucinating. Saint Francis was among the agencies involved.

An independent evaluation released this fall showed that some improvements had been made to the system, with children moving between placements less frequently.

But all four of the state contractors continue to report that some children are sleeping in offices and caseloads remain too high, according to the assessment, which is a condition of the state’s settlement of a class-action federal lawsuit with the advocacy group Kansas Appleseed and others.

Republican state Sen. Molly Baumgardner, of Louisburg, described Smith as a “wolf in sheep’s clothes” and the allegations as “absolutely beyond abhorrent.”

Baumgardner, who also serves on the Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight, said the head of DCF should resign and that the agency needs a leader who will hold contractors accountable.

“There has been no action by the governor or by the secretary to pull the plug on Saint Francis,” she complained, adding that it “failed Kansas kids miserably.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Family seeks answers after police kill man on his own porch

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The family of an Austin, Texas, man is seeking answers after he was fatally shot by police last month on his front porch following a late-night emergency call by a neighbor. Video and audio released Thursday show that Austin police officers arrived Nov. 15, yelled “drop your gun,” then fired at […]
20 hours ago
FILE - Flowers and candles are placed around crosses on May 28, 2022, at a memorial outside Robb El...
Associated Press

Uvalde shooting victims seek $27B, class action in lawsuit

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Victims of the Uvalde school shooting that left 21 people dead have filed a lawsuit against local and state police, the city and other school and law enforcement officials seeking $27 billion due to delays in confronting the attacker, court documents show. The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in […]
20 hours ago
The Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaws Committee discuss proposed changes to the primar...
Associated Press

Dems move to make South Carolina, not Iowa, 1st voting state

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats voted Friday to remove Iowa as the leadoff state on the presidential nominating calendar and replace it with South Carolina starting in 2024, a dramatic shakeup championed by President Joe Biden to better reflect the party’s deeply diverse electorate. The Democratic National Committee’s rule-making arm made the move to strip Iowa […]
20 hours ago
Associated Press

GOP’s Joe Kent contests results of Washington state race

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — Republican Joe Kent’s campaign said Friday it intends to request a machine ballot recount of the counties within southwest Washington state’s 3rd Congressional District. “We believe the election workers did their best to ensure a fair election and count the ballots accurately,” his campaign said in a statement. “But given the […]
20 hours ago
FILE - In this May 24, 2004 file photo, a Mount Graham red squirrel darts through trees on Mount Gr...
Associated Press

Endangered red squirrel found in Arizona sees increase in population

The latest survey shows another increase in the population of the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel in the Pinaleno Mountains of Arizona.
20 hours ago
FILE - Johnny Hincapie raises his fist as he leaves the courthouse in New York, Jan. 25, 2017. Atto...
Associated Press

Man to receive almost $18 million for wrongful NY conviction

A man who was freed in 2015 after spending a quarter-century in prison for an infamous tourist killing will receive nearly $18 million in legal settlements from the city and state of New York, his attorneys confirmed Friday. Lawyers for Johnny Hincapie said it marks one of the largest settlements for a wrongful conviction in […]
20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
Lawmaker: Kansas should cut ties with foster care contractor