Kansas foster care provider to repay $9.4M in unused tax dollars

By: - March 30, 2021 2:21 pm

An investigation by a Kansas City, Kansas, attorney substantiated claims of financial misconduct by Saint Francis Ministries CEO Robert Smith, leading to his departure from the organization in November 2020. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Saint Francis Ministries has agreed to repay $9.4 million in Kansas tax dollars that weren’t spent in Kansas, the Department for Children and Families announced Tuesday.

The money comes from a grant paid by DCF between October 2019 and February 2021, when the grant was revised.

Tuesday’s announcement follows months of revelations about the depth of the Salina-based foster care provider’s financial troubles under former leadership. Questionable personal expenses, costly investments that never saw a return, and an underbid contract for services in Nebraska pushed the nonprofit toward insolvency last year.

Saint Francis in May 2020 transferred $10.5 million from its general fund to help cover losses in Nebraska while failing to invest $9.4M granted from DCF. Earlier this year, Nebraska revised its contract with Saint Francis and repaid the $10.5 million.

The cash flow from Nebraska allows Saint Francis to repay the unused Kansas funds to DCF.

“I want to thank Saint Francis leadership for working closely with my DCF team to guarantee that unspent taxpayer money is returned to the state,” said DCF secretary Laura Howard. “I am confident that we have come to an equitable agreement that allows Saint Francis to continue its important work with children and families while also ensuring DCF continues to be a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars.”

The unused funds include $3.2 million earmarked for foster care services in western Kansas, $3.8 million for north central Kansas, and $2.2 million for Sedgwick County.

The returned funds will be used to cover foster care costs in Kansas.

“We appreciate secretary Howard and the DCF team, and their willingness to partner with Saint Francis as we determined the best way to reinvest the unspent funds or repay any unspent dollars to the state of Kansas,” said Saint Francis interim CEO William Clark. “Our goal is always to do what is best for children and families, while also being good stewards of the resources entrusted to us.”

DCF has been investigating financial misconduct at Saint Francis for the past 15 months and is preparing to release a report on its findings.

Saint Francis severed ties with former CEO Robert “Father Bobby” Smith and COO Tom Blythe in November, following an investigation into an internal whistleblower report.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a lifelong Kansan.