Sioux City charity fires two school-program officials, alleging misuse of taxpayer dollars

Rear view of students sitting with hands raised in classroom
Two administrators at a Sioux City charity were fired earlier this year after being accused of misspending federal grant money that funds an elementary-school program. (Photo by Getty Images)

Two administrators at a Sioux City charity were fired earlier this year after being accused of misspending federal grant money.

State unemployment records indicate that in May, the Siouxland Human Investment Partnership, a tax-exempt charity that provides health and education services to citizens of Woodbury County, fired two of the organization’s directors in its Beyond the Bell educational program. The two directors were Karissa Koser and Diana DeAnda.

According to state records, DeAnda purchased gift cards for the charity’s staff in 2018, with the executive director’s permission, using the organization’s Sam’s Club account. That account provides customers with “points” that can be used as store credit. The points were awarded to Siouxland based on purchases the charity made with federal money.

In late 2019, DeAnda allegedly purchased $100 worth of gift cards through the Sam’s Club account. In March 2020, DeAnda’s husband inadvertently used the charity’s account to purchase $125 in groceries for the couple’s use. A month later, DeAnda sent her husband to Sam’s Club to purchase $295 worth of additional  gift cards for the staff using the charity’s account.

In April of this year, another Siouxland employee noticed the $520 in expenditures, and an investigation was launched and DeAnda and Koser were subsequently fired. In her letter of termination, DeAnda was told she was being terminated for “lying directly to Beyond the Bell management about your involvement in the misappropriation of the funds.”

At separate hearings on their requests for unemployment benefits, Siouxland officials testified that Koser was fired for colluding with DeAnda. They testified the purchases had resulted in the misappropriation of federal funds and that the two violated the charity’s policy by using the organization’s credit card without prior authorization.

At DeAnda’s unemployment hearing, Siouxland’s finance officer testified the organization’s accounting firm had said reward points on the Sam’s Club account are restricted for federal-grant purposes and the purchase of the gift cards represented a fraudulent use of program dollars.

Siouxland officials testified that when they asked DeAnda and Koser about the missing store credit, the two said they had noticed the change in the account balance and suspected someone had taken a Siouxland Sam’s Club card and was using it. The officials testified that when DeAnda was told the purchases were made using the card Siouxland had issued to her, DeAnda responded, “Oh my gosh, someone did steal from us.” The officials testified that DeAnda and Koser later admitted they purchased the gift cards for staff members using the Sam’s Club account.

Koser was awarded unemployment benefits with Administrative Law Judge Heather Palmer ruling that the Sam’s account was not a credit card, and that the points Siouxland earned “through the Sam’s account are not federal dollars.”

However, Palmer denied DeAnda’s request for unemployment benefits, finding that while she “showed very poor judgment” in her use of the Sam’s Club account, it was “her later conduct of stating someone must have stolen the card, and failing to report she had her husband purchase the gift cards, which is troubling.”

This is not the first time there have been allegations of fraud involving the Beyond the Bell program. In 2014, Siouxland’s executive director acknowledged a criminal investigation into questionable credit card purchases made by two employees of the Beyond the Bell program. In 2008, a former Siouxland YMCA administrative assistant was convicted of first-degree theft for stealing nearly $15,000 from the Beyond the Bell program.

Federal tax records indicate Siouxland has about $6.8 million in annual income, with roughly $575,000 of that in the form of federal grants.

 

 

 

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.