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State justice orders shutdown of St. Augustine Center

The State Supreme Court is shutting down St. Augustine Center.

Barring a last-minute reprieve, the once-respected human services agency, which has helped thousands of East Side residents, will close for good by March 2.

State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek ordered the shutdown Tuesday after learning that St. Augustine representatives had failed to pay all their employees Feb. 3 after telling the judge in court last week that they had.

The center has been in and out of court for more than a year, burdened with huge debts accumulated through years of mismanagement and fraud. Employees complained repeatedly that they worked for weeks without paychecks, resulting in court action by the state Labor Department.

Employees also continued to quit, leaving the center without adequate staff to serve its foster care and long-term care clients.

In court last week, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples, D-Buffalo, asked for 30 days to help St. Augustine get its house in order. Michalek granted her that time with the understanding that St. Augustine still had to prove it had met its last payroll.

But after reviewing St. Augustine's ongoing failure to meet its numerous financial and court-imposed demands, including its last payroll, Michalek had enough.

The judge said he opted to grant the state's demands to shut down the 60-employee agency following teleconferences with Peoples, representatives of local and state services agencies and center lawyer Terrence D. McKelvey.

"Payroll hadn't been made, and McKelvey could not dispute that," Michalek said Tuesday.

The judge instructed Buffalo attorney Adam W. Perry to supervise the wind-down and eventual closing of the agency. Perry will handle the agency's financial responsibilities and oversee the transfer of clients to other area human services groups.

Erie County Social Services Commissioner Michael Weiner said he has plans to redistribute the center's clients to other area agencies. Because St. Augustine's caseload has continued to decrease in recent years, redistributing its remaining clients won't be difficult, he added.

He estimated that the change will affect 13 foster-care and 32 long-term senior-care cases.

"We hope to make this a seamless and expedited transition," he said.

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