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March 16, 2017

Pa. financial watchdog: Abortion 'alternative' provider covering up how grant money is used

Pennsylvania's chief financial watchdog is accusing an organization that provides women "alternatives" to abortions of using the courts to conceal the use of nearly $1 million in state grant money.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said in a press release Thursday that Real Alternatives is employing legal actions to block his office's request to find out where $906,000 in taxpayer funds was spent.

“The idea that any organization receiving public funds would hide behind the courts to keep taxpayers in the dark makes my blood boil,” said DePasquale, who claimed there was "zero accountability" for the money.

In September, DePasquale launched an audit of Harrisburg-based Real Alternatives' five-year, $30.2 million grant from the Department of Human Services. The grant is set to expire in June 2017.

Now, DePasquale says he is being "sued" by Real Alternatives for conducting the audit — a first for him since taking office in 2013.

In a statement, Real Alternatives said it takes seriously its responsibility of being a "good steward" of taxpayer money and has a "spotless record" of accountability and keeping administrative costs low. 

DePasquale's request relates to non-government contracts that use private funds, the organization said, and is therefore is being made without proper legal authority. 

According to court documents, DePasquale said the organization charges subcontractors a 3 percent fee to promote its development and expansion. 

He's not alleging the money is being used illegally, he said, but wants to make sure 100 percent of the grant money is going toward assisting pregnant women in the state.

"Real Alternatives is perplexed as to why this matter is even an issue since it was legally researched, as well as discussed and approved by the then Department of Public Welfare prior to implementation," the organization's statement said.

Real Alternatives officials claim they unsuccessfully asked to discuss the issue with state attorneys several times during the past year.

The nonprofit organization provides "life-affirming pregnancy and parenting support services throughout the nation," according to its website.

"These compassionate support services empower women to protect their reproductive health, avoid crisis pregnancies, choose childbirth rather than abortion, receive adoption education, and improve parenting skills," the website reads.

The organization says it has served more than 275,000 women in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana since its inception in 1996.

The DHS was not immediately available for comment Thursday morning.