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Teen's Wages Stolen
June 7, 2011 permalink
California foster teenager Samuel Sago prepared for aging out by saving money from his job and placing it, as required by law, for safekeeping with his county case manager Andre Toliver. When reaching age 21, he found that Toliver had embezzled his money and that of at least ten other kids. Only the embarrassment of exposure in the press got the county to make good.
Once-trusting county foster care client learns his trust fund money went missing
Immersed in the Los Angeles County foster care system since age 3, Samuel Sago was busy preparing a few months ago to make his way on his own when he turned 21.
He had saved up some money working at Starbucks - about $300 a month over a 17-month period - and turned it over to his county case manager for safekeeping in a trust fund. That was required by the county's Transitional Housing Program, which helps house youths for three years after they leave foster care at age 18 and forces them to save money for their future.
As he approached 21 and it was time to start paying his own rent for the first time, the county Department of Children and Family Services offered him a check.
The grand total: $713.
Sago was stunned. What happened to the rest of it - nearly $5,000 - he wondered. He fought with county officials for months, and was offered one runaround and vague excuse after another, but no check.
In fact, it was only after reading a story Friday in the Daily News that he learned the full, awful truth: His case manager, Deputy Probation Officer II Andre Toliver, had allegedly pocketed his cash, along with funds from at least 10 other youths he was supervising.
The alleged theft was discovered in March, after Toliver died of a heart attack. But Sago says county officials had refused to tell him what had really happened or refund his money.
It was only on Friday - after DCFS faced pressure from two county supervisors and questions from a reporter - that he got his check for $4,664.10.
"First, they told us, 'We don't know what happened,'" said Tiffany Foster, 29, who was Sago's big "sister" in foster care and is now housing him in her home.
"They didn't come out and say (Toliver) did anything crooked, they just kind of hinted to the fact that he was shady."
"Then they gave us all kinds of excuses, like we're going through an audit right now, there's a hold on the money."
Foster and Sago plan to appear before the county Board of Supervisors today to discuss the situation.
Toliver's alleged deceit was discovered when he died suddenly of a heart attack on March 3 and the DCFS, while trying to reassign his wards, took over his paperwork.
Last week officials disclosed that Toliver had kept two sets of books on his wards' accounts and $15,000 was missing.
DCFS Acting Director Dr. Jackie Contreras offered an apology Monday.
"We deeply regret any inconvenience that Mr. Toliver's actions caused for the youths, and as of June 3rd, have made full restitution to them," she said in a statement.
"Moving forward, we must ensure that we are always acting with the urgency that a situation like this demands," Contreras added. "We are also working diligently to put safeguards in place to ensure that inexcusable wrongdoing such as Mr. Toliver's does not happen again."
Toliver's supervisor, Stephanie DuCaine - one of several officials Sago identified as giving him the runaround - said she too regretted the delay in returning the funds. She attributed it to the pace of the investigation.
"I felt his pain, he was in a difficult position, and I was trying to think of what we could do here to assist him, other than offering to let him to move back into his (transitional housing) apartment," DuCaine said.
"I certainly did not want him to be homeless while all this was pending," she added. "I only regret that it took so long. If I could change anything, it would have been to speed it up so that he could have had his money right away."
Sago ended up moving back in with his last foster family, who took him in even though he could not pay them any rent. He is now staying in Gardena with Foster, another member of his last foster family, whom he considered his "sister."
She took the lead in trying to recover his money, but said the DCFS kept giving her "the runaround."
DuCaine said the department was caught by surprise about Toliver's actions. She said they were still mourning him when the allegations came out.
"I was floored," she said. "It was certainly looking as though he had taken money from this most vulnerable population that we're sworn to protect and help."
DuCaine said Toliver was "a wonderful, wonderful counselor. The youth really respected him. And I felt badly that his legacy will be this."
"He had a very understanding nature, and he was a probation officer, so he was particularly gifted dealing with youth that had trouble pasts, who were at risk of going into the legal system. He had a special gift for helping them and getting them on the road to employment and training."
She said he set up vocational training programs for the youth in employment and education, and received an award for his efforts from the Board of Supervisors.
DCFS offered assurances that it was taking steps to prevent a repeat of the incident. DuCaine said it included sending a letter warning youths not to give their case managers any cash, and issuing trust fund bank statements directly to them.
Those measures were not enough to appease Eddie Jones, the president of the Los Angeles Civil Rights Association, who is acting as an advocate for Sago.
"This is not the end of this situation here," Jones said. "We are just waiting to get closure on the check and then we're going to analyze and evaluate how we can make sure that this never happens again to any (emancipated) foster child or human being who was having their money saved by the Department of Children and Family Services foster care system."
Sago said the delay in the release of his money had been a hardship, preventing him from paying rent to Foster, who has a 5-year-old son diagnosed with high-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome.
Still, she added, "I don't mind Sammy staying here. He is a good kid, all he does is go to work, come home. He's not running the streets, doesn't have a lot of people coming in and out of my house."
Sago had also planned to use the money to enroll in a junior college. He said he was "completely dissatisfied" with the way the DCFS handled the program.
"And I feel a little bad that they would lie to a young person, a young adult, that's already gone through the foster care system.
"It's just not right."
Source: Los Angeles Daily News