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State may close St. Augustine Center

St. Augustine Center, a troubled East Side human services agency, is in danger of being shut down by court order if it can't meet its payroll and pay back wages for employees who have been without paychecks for weeks.

The state Labor Department has filed a show-cause order asking the State Supreme Court to force St. Augustine to come up with $675,000 in payroll costs and penalties or face closure, Erie County Social Services Commissioner Michael Weiner confirmed Tuesday.

"The agency continues to fail to pay its employees and meet its obligations," he said.

The case is set for a hearing Thursday before State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek.

The center has been in financial turmoil for more than a year, buried under debts, mismanagement and personnel turnover. The Social Services Department, a primary source of funds for St. Augustine, suspended new referrals to the agency's long-term and foster care programs last spring.

Meanwhile, former and current employees have bombarded the Labor Department with complaints that the agency has failed to consistently issue payroll checks since 2005.

The Labor Department is demanding that St. Augustine pay more than $300,000 in back wages and penalties to current and former employees and set aside another $300,000 to ensure future payroll demands, Weiner said. If it can't, the Labor Department wants St. Augustine out of business.

Weiner said the county will decide how to proceed in its relationship with St. Augustine based on what happens Thursday.

"We're going to wait and see how the court handles this matter," he said.

St. Augustine's Executive Director Jacqueline Mines was unable to provide detailed reports regarding the agency's fiscal standing when its problems came to light early last year.

Since then, St. Augustine has lost the Amer-I-Can program, a national life management skills program that at one time served about 140 high school students.

H. McCarthy Gipson, the new police commissioner, had been chairman of St. Augustine's board of directors since last year. Gipson, who said he resigned the post Friday, declined to comment Tuesday on the agency's situation.


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