Federal grand jury indicts former Kansas foster care managers for fraud

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TOPEKA — A federal grand jury has indicted the former CEO and CIO of Saint Francis Ministries for conspiring to defraud the foster care provider of at least $4.7 million in fake invoices.

The indictment follows a two-year investigation into accusations of financial mismanagement that led to the firing of former CEO Robert “Father Bobby” Smith.

In 2019, Nebraska contracted with Saint Francis to oversee its child welfare system. State officials terminated that contract last December, three years before its end date, saying Saint Francis had failed to meet a number of obligations.

Prosecutors say Smith approved invoices submitted by William Whymark that inflated the true cost of providing IT services. Smith received a previously undisclosed $50,000 bribe disguised as an authorized bill, according to the indictment. He also used Saint Francis credit cards to pay for his personal expenses, including cash withdrawals, clothing, and jewelry.

Smith and Whymark were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud. Smith was charged with five additional counts of wire fraud and one money laundering charge. Whymark was charged with three other money laundering charges.

If convicted, they face a maximum prison sentence of 20 years in federal prison, plus fines and restitution.

Kansas Reflector first reported allegations of financial mismanagement by Smith and Whymark in the weeks after they left St. Francis in November 2020. Whymark’s $10 million IT project, combined with Smith’s personal expenses and a heavily underpriced contract to provide foster care services in Nebraska, had pushed the faith-based nonprofit to the brink of insolvency. The organization managed to stay afloat by receiving a $10 million loan from the Paycheck Protection Program that it was not eligible for and never repaid.

Saint Francis is Kansas’ largest foster care contractor, providing services to Wichita and the western two-thirds of the state. In a statement, the Salina-based organization said it was aware of the federal indictment.

“As the case progresses, St. Francis will continue to work transparently and cooperatively with federal authorities as part of the investigative process,” the statement said. “We appreciate the diligence shown by all parties in the pursuit of justice.”

In January, Saint Francis filed a civil lawsuit in Saline County District Court against Smith, Whymark, former chief attorney David Schaffer and the Chicago law firm where Schaffer worked. The lawsuit identifies Schaffer as Smith’s friend and Whymark’s brother.

Federal authorities seized three of Whymark’s bank accounts in February, with balances totaling about $700,000.

The grand jury indictment, which was filed Nov. 9, says Smith and Whymark “conspired and engaged in a scheme to defraud Saint Francis Ministries.”

Smith hired Whymark in February 2018 to lead a project to upgrade the organization’s IT services. Whymark misrepresented his academic credentials, falsely claiming he had a doctorate in marketing science from the University of Connecticut, according to the indictment. He received an annual salary of $164,000.

Whymark’s company, WMK Research, hired two India-based contractors to perform the actual IT services and asked them to conceal their work. Emails from contractors show the number of hours worked by employees and their salary.

Whymark submitted invoices, approved by Smith without the knowledge of his board, for inflated amounts. The indictment said the payments amounted to $10,737,583, of which at least $4,774,637.50 was fraudulent.

Prosecutors said Whymark used the fraudulent Saint Francis payments to purchase a $4 million home in Armonk, New York, along with luxury vehicles, jewelry and cash withdrawals.

On August 3, 2020, Whymark submitted an invoice for reimbursement of a $50,000 check he wrote to Smith on July 28. The invoice was supposed to be for marketing services and consultancy work, which was outside the scope of his contract. Smith approved the bill the same day it was submitted, “causing SFM to unknowingly fund Whymark’s $50,000 payment to Smith,” the indictment states.

The indictment says Smith and Whymark conspired with other anonymous people to commit wire fraud.

St. Francis hired Smith, an Episcopal priest ordained in 2014 by the Diocese of Chicago, as CEO in 2014. He resigned in November 2020 after an attorney investigation substantiated allegations of financial misconduct that had previously described by two whistleblowers.

Smith denied being a business partner of Whymark, even though one of Whymark’s companies had identified Smith as a business partner on its website. Smith said he never received any compensation from the Whymark Companies.

He told the church last year that he was not under investigation by federal authorities.

Rt. Paula Clark, who became bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago in September, said the church takes allegations of clergy misconduct seriously and is cooperating with legal authorities.

“I am deeply concerned about the allegations contained in this indictment,” Clark said. “When I learned of this yesterday, I immediately decided to suspend the Reverend Robert Smith from all priestly and ministerial duties and to ensure that he has no direct access to credit cards, accounts banks or any other funds held by the church.. I will be meeting with Reverend Smith regularly as these legal proceedings unfold to ensure that he abides by the terms of this stay.

This article first appeared in the Kansas Reflectora Nebraska Examiner sister site in the United States Newsroom Network
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