HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The arrest of Richard Lilliston, the former chief executive officer of the Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens, or HARC, is a very dark moment for an organization with an otherwise brilliant history.
Following an 8 On Your Side investigation that began exposing money problems at HARC in February 2013, four former executives were charged with submitting false information to the Social Security Administration. Our investigation revealed HARC had illegally taken Social Security benefits paid to Vicki Caldwell, Robert Franklin and another 38 clients, placed some of the money into the general fund, then lied to the Social Security Administration, claiming the money was used for clients’ dental, medical, recreation and or clothing needs.
The plot was brash enough that it took money from the brother-in-law of HARC’s Foundation chair, Steven Brannock.
A grand jury last week indicted Lilliston, the former 69-year-old CEO, claiming he was part of a conspiracy to defraud two Social Security Administration programs. Federal agents arrested him Thursday.
Lilliston appeared before a federal magistrate, entered a not guilty plea and was released on a $50,000 bond. Lilliston said he cannot afford an attorney and asked the court to appoint one.
What is interesting to note is that of the four HARC executives charged, only Lilliston claims he is not guilty. Former finance manager Sandra Shepherd pleaded guilty to submitting a false statement to the SSA. She was sentenced in March to five years probation and ordered to pay $37,000 in restitution.
Former HARC CFO, Marsha Weisse entered a guilty plea in December to submitting a false statement to social security. Her sentencing is scheduled for September. Former CFO Frank Pannullo pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy. Pannullo is scheduled to be sentenced in January.
Agents from the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General as well as the Florida Department of Financial Services investigated the case.
HARC was established in 1953 by a group of parents that wanted more for their children than institutionalization. HARC opened and operated group homes to serve its clients. It also coordinated community programs for youths, adults, and seniors with disabilities.
Federal investigators claim that by 2001, under Lilliston, the organization was robbing Peter to pay Paul and lying to Uncle Sam about it. Crumbling under financial pressure, accusations of fraud from the state and scandal, HARC was sold to a Miami-based non-profit in 2013.