HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – For 25 years Melinda Hirsch was a client living in a group home at HARC, formerly known as the Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens.
Hirsch, according to her obituary, was disabled from birth. She faced her condition with a smile on her face that could light up the room. She passed away in 2012, before a Target 8 investigation revealed HARC executives siphoned off her Social Security benefits and those of dozens of others clients.
“It’s an act of betrayal,” her brother Richard Hirsch said.
Richard Hirsch believes HARC executives took $30,000 to $40,000 of his sister’s Social Security money.
Target 8 revealed in 2013 HARC big wigs used Social Security money meant for Hirsch and other clients on expenses, including an $1,800-a-month car allowance for former CEO Richard Lilliston and former CFO Frank Pannullo.
Following our reports, an investigation was launched by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Florida’s Department of Financial Services office of Fiscal Integrity.
Investigators discovered $87,000 in a HARC account.
Melinda Hirsch’s family,as well as others, recently received a portion of that. “Nobody is being reimbursed, I think, to the extent of what was embezzled,” Richard Hirsch said.
“If it hadn’t been for your reporting, WFLA’s reporting, and also the efforts of the U.S. attorney, probably nothing would have taken place,” he added.
Pannullo and 2 other former HARC employees entered guilty pleas to submitting false statements to Social Security about how Melinda Hirsch’s money was used.
Indicted in July, Lilliston entered a not guilty plea.
“It was shocking. I knew these people; I trusted them,” Richard Hirsch said.
In federal court on Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office told a judge a trial against Lilliston is expected to take three to four weeks. They are looking at an April trial date.
Melinda Hirsch’s obituary said she taught her family a valuable lesson in caring and compassion for the less fortunate. That lesson was apparently lost on Lilliston and company.