Lawmaker: Kansas should cut ties with foster care contractor

Nov 15, 2022, 6:22 PM | Updated: Nov 16, 2022, 10:12 am
Kansas state Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, presides as chair over a meeting of the Legislature's ...

Kansas state Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, presides as chair over a meeting of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Concannon wants to end the state's contract with its largest foster care contractor after two former executives were accused of scheming to defraud the organization. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

(AP Photo/John Hanna)

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — The head of a Kansas legislative panel wants to end the state’s contract with its largest foster care contractor, after two former executives were accused of scheming to defraud the organization out of at least $4.7 million.

The federal indictments this month against the Rev. Robert Smith, the former CEO of Saint Francis Ministries, and William Whymark, its former chief information officer, capped a string of problems with the group, including children being forced to sleep in offices and workers falsifying documents to show visits with families that never took place.

“I am horrified at the level of devious behavior by Saint Francis,” state Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican and the chair of the Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight, said before a meeting Wednesday.

“The more we find out, the more we realize we don’t know! They do not deserve to continue a partnership with the state of Kansas in any capacity,” she said.

Saint Francis Ministries, which sued Smith, Whymark and its former chief counsel earlier this year in an attempt to recover money, said in a statement that it respects the criminal justice system to resolve the matter.

“We do not wish to interject any comments that might interfere with justice or the due process of the accused,” the group said.

Mike Deines, a spokesman with the Kansas Department for Children and Families, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Late last year, Nebraska did what Concannon proposed and announced that it was terminating its contract with Saint Francis to oversee the care of abused and neglected children in two Omaha-area counties.

Saint Francis had been exceeding Nebraska’s caseload requirements and ultimately conceded that it had underbid its contract with the state. It had to ask for more money. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that it was a mutual decision to transition those management duties back to the state.

Saint Francis, which also operates in Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas, has sought to distance itself from Smith and Whymark since they left in 2020 after a whistleblower came forward.

But the wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering charges have thrust past scandals back into the news. The charges carry a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison.

In the indictment, prosecutors allege that Smith hired Whymark’s company to help revamp Saint Francis’ IT systems and then approved inflated invoices.

Whymark, 50, of Mount Kisco, New York, is accused of using the the fraudulently obtained funds to help pay for a roughly $4 million home, luxury vehicles and jewelry, and to make cash withdrawals.

Smith, meanwhile, used company credit cards to withdraw cash and pay for clothing, jewelry and family trips, the indictment says.

Smith, 50, previously filed a counterclaim against Saint Francis officials alleging defamation. His attorney, Lance Sandage, didn’t immediately reply to a phone message seeking comment.

Smith has taken a leave of absence from Christ Cathedral in Salina, where he went to work after leaving Saint Francis. The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, which oversees Smith, had restricted his ability to serve as a priest for part of the time he was there. After the indictment, the diocese barred him from any ministerial duties or having any access to church funds.

Mark Cowell, who hired Smith and serves as the bishop of the western Kansas diocese, asked for prayer and “that justice be done.”

No attorney is listed for Whymark in online court records.

The Kansas foster care system has long been beset with problems. Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, has vowed to make changes to the system and called for an investigation into the death of Cedric Lofton, a 17-year-old who was restrained face down for more than 40 minutes in 2021 at a Wichita juvenile intake center after his foster father called begging for help because the teen was hallucinating. Saint Francis was among the agencies involved.

An independent evaluation released this fall showed that some improvements had been made to the system, with children moving between placements less frequently.

But all four of the state contractors continue to report that some children are sleeping in offices and caseloads remain too high, according to the assessment, which is a condition of the state’s settlement of a class-action federal lawsuit with the advocacy group Kansas Appleseed and others.

Republican state Sen. Molly Baumgardner, of Louisburg, described Smith as a “wolf in sheep’s clothes” and the allegations as “absolutely beyond abhorrent.”

Baumgardner, who also serves on the Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight, said the head of DCF should resign and that the agency needs a leader who will hold contractors accountable.

“There has been no action by the governor or by the secretary to pull the plug on Saint Francis,” she complained, adding that it “failed Kansas kids miserably.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


A flyer seeking information about the killings of four University of Idaho students who were found ...
Rebecca Boone, Associated Press

Victims’ families urge love, kindness as Idaho campus mourns

As hundreds of students mourned together inside the University of Idaho’s stadium Wednesday night, family members of four slain classmates urged them to raise their eyes from grief and focus on love and the future.
15 hours ago
FILE - Former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club is seen in the aerial view in Palm Beach, Fl...
Associated Press

Trump probe: Court halts Mar-a-Lago special master review

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court on Thursday ended an independent review of documents seized from former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, removing a hurdle the Justice Department said had delayed its criminal investigation into the retention of top-secret government information. The decision by the three-judge panel represents a significant win for federal prosecutors, […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Environmentalists fight huge utility’s long-term contracts

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Distributors for the nation’s largest public utility signed onto what amounted to “never-ending” contracts that unfairly tied them to power generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, a lawyer argued Thursday as she represents environmental groups in a lawsuit. Southern Environmental Law Center lawyer Amanda Garcia spoke in Memphis federal court in […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Actor in ‘Green Book’ found dead on New York City street

NEW YORK (AP) — A man found dead on a New York City sidewalk this week was identified Thursday as Frank Vallelonga Jr., an actor who appeared in the Oscar-winning movie “Green Book.” Vallelonga, 60, is the son of one-time Copacabana bouncer Frank Vallelonga Sr., known as Tony Lip, who was portrayed by Viggo Mortensen […]
15 hours ago
FILE - Former film producer Harvey Weinstein appears in court at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Crimina...
Associated Press

Weinstein lawyer in closing: ‘Tears do not make truth’

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An attorney for Harvey Weinstein at his Los Angeles rape and sexual assault trial told jurors Thursday that prosecutors’ case relies entirely on asking them to trust women whose testimony showed they were untrustworthy. “Take my word for it,” Jackson told jurors in his closing argument. “Five words that sum up […]
2 days ago
FILE - Democratic Arizona Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs speaks at a victory rally, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022,...
Associated Press

Arizona judge orders county to immediately certify election

PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona judge on Thursday ordered Cochise County officials to certify the midterm election results by the end of the day, saying Republican supervisors broke the law when they refused to sign off on the vote count by this week’s deadline. Two Republicans on the county’s three-member board of supervisors have not […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Lawmaker: Kansas should cut ties with foster care contractor