SEPTEMBER 25, 2006
Directors of the U.S. Government’s taxpayer-funded legal aid program for the poor tried to fire the independent auditor who uncovered how they abuse public funds by purchasing expensive meals, fancy transportation services and millions of dollars in unnecessary office space in an upscale area.
The widespread abuse at the Legal Services Corporation led to the investigation that has provided details of how directors and employees, who profess to help poor Americans gain equal access to the judicial system, use taxpayer dollars for their personal pleasure.
When agency Inspector General Kirt West exposed the abuse, Legal Services directors tried to get rid of him, according to private meeting transcripts obtained by a national media outlet. The transcripts feature Legal Services members deriding West as abusive, a character assassin and a shoddy investigator with a delusional staff.
Certainly, they were upset at the inspector general’s findings, which included; $400 for a limousine to transport agency officials to meetings within cab distance from the Washington D.C. headquarters; fancy deserts that cost $14 each; $200 taxi rides in Ireland for Legal Services President Helaine Barnett and $7 million in unneeded office space in the upscale Georgetown section of Washington.
This from the agency that professes to be America’s partner for equal justice, with 700 offices nationally to help the needy get otherwise inaccessible legal counsel. The organization is funded with a $330.8 million Congressional appropriation, which pays for lawyers in a variety of cases involving domestic abuse, migrant worker exploitation and Social Security benefits.
Inspector General West has kept his job because several lawmakers intervened after hearing that Legal Services planned to retaliate by firing him. Senators Charles Grassley of Iowa and Michael Enzi of Wyoming along with Utah Representative Christopher Cannon warned the Legal Services board in a strongly worded letter that firing West “would be an egregious action in light of the fact that Mr. West is investigating you, the LSC board, as well as your president.”
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