Target 8: Jurors told HARC CEO fired for awarding himself perks

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Things are heating up at Richard Lilliston’s federal conspiracy trial.

The feds charge the former CEO of the Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens, or HARC, conspired to defraud the government and submitted paperwork to cover it up.

Former HARC board chairman Steve Brannock told jurors that he fired Lilliston in 2011, when he discovered the charismatic CEO helped himself to benefits without getting approval from the board of directors.

Brannock found Lilliston gave himself and a few chosen others, cell phones, car insurance, even an $1,800 a month car allowance, all of it unauthorized.

Where was that money coming from?

“Oh, I’d rather not comment any further on it, you and I have had a long discussion about it in the past and I’d like to put it behind me now,” Brannock told Target 8.

Where the money came from is front and center at this trial.

Federal investigators believe the money for Lilliston’s perks as well as other HARC expenses came from clients’ Social Security benefits.

RELATED: Manatee mom to HARC: How can you sleep with yourself at night?

Five years ago Target 8 revealed Social Security benefits for clients like Melinda Hirsch, Vickie Caldwell, Robert Franklin and others, were pooled into a trust fund.

It was Lilliston’s job to make sure those benefits were spent on those clients.  He signed paperwork swearing it was.

It was spent on other things.  That’s why he is charged with conspiring to defraud the government and lying about it.

Former HARC Chief Operating Officer Steve Mason told jurors he was demoted after he asked questions about clients’ money. He testified Lilliston told him it was not smart to put questions in writing.

The trial is a painful reminder for Brannock and others with family members at HARC that something meant to do such good, took much needed money from those who could use it the most.

Steve Brannock’s brother-in-law was a resident of HARC.

He told jurors his brother-in-law operates on the level of a four or five-year-old.

The jury heard that Lilliston and company put a six-page contract in front of him to sign.

Our investigation found $26,000 in Social Security benefits went into that pooled trust.  If he or the others see anything, it will be pennies on the dollar.

The trial continues on Wednesday.

If you have a something that you think should be investigated call our Target 8 Helpline at 1-800-338-0808, or contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com.

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