HSE Audit: Hep C charity boss raised suspicions

The woman who controlled the finances of a charity set up to support women with hepatitis C ultimately raised the suspicions of her peers when she failed to provide satisfactory explanations around missing cheque stubs and delays in obtaining copy cheques from the bank.

HSE Audit: Hep C charity boss raised suspicions

Detta (Bernadette) Warnock, sentenced to two years in prison last year after pleading guilty to stealing over €116,000 from Positive Action, was initially held “in high regard” by the executive committee/directors.

However a series of incidents raised their concerns, including when cheque stubs went missing from Positive Action’s Dublin premises. The executive committee/directors told auditors that Ms Warnock initially said they may have been shredded by mistake.

When copy cheques were requested from the bank they were “a long time coming”. The bank manager subsequently confirmed he had given them to Detta as he knew her well.

On another occasion, Ms Warnock arranged for her daughter’s laptop to be brought to the premises because of a problem with another laptop. Milk was spilled on it but the laptop still worked. However, she subsequently claimed it was destroyed. A third party was commissioned to assess the damages but their report was retracted when it emerged they had not inspected the laptop.

The HSE said there were other “warning signs”, such as making the office manager redundant in 2009 on the basis the HSE had cut funding, which it had not. The action cost the charity more than €63,000 following an unfair dismissal case.

The executive committee members/directors also told auditors that Ms Warnock handed out financial information at finance committee meetings and gathered it back from members at the end of the meeting for shredding and that she kept the information herself.

Auditors were also told that when travel and expense cheques were issued at executive committee/board meetings Ms Warnock would “lay a bundle of cash on the table” and cash the executive committee members’/directors’ cheques for them.

Ultimately, an audit of the charity’s records between 2009-2013 identified “an organisation where control over the expenditure of public funds was non-existent” and where there was “significant resistance by the directors to being accountable…in their responsibility for the stewardship of public funds”.

During the period of auditing, more than €324,000 was spent on weekends in Ireland; more than €103,000 on overseas trips,; €251,000 on expense claims of executive committees/directors and more than €100,000 on complimentary therapies.

The charity, set up in 1994 to support women given contaminated blood products by the State, received €4.7m in funding from HSE between 2005-2013, of which €2.3m was provided during the period of audit. It was closed down in 2014 after the audit.

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