An official at the state Department of Human Resources has close ties to acompany that is regulated by the department and receives millions of dollarsfrom it to operate group homes.
Elisha B. Pulivarti serves on the board of Evershine Residential ServicesInc., according to both the assistant executive director and a board memberfor the company. Pulivarti also heads the Governor's Office on Asian-PacificAmerican Affairs, a $60,000-a-year job promoting Asian-American awareness. Theoffice is part of DHR, which licenses and monitors 10 Evershine homes with 26boys.
State regulations explicitly bar any agency employee from serving on theboards of directors of group home companies.
After The Sun raised questions yesterday, an agency spokesman said DHRSecretary Christopher J. McCabe has ordered an investigation.
"He is adamant we will not have any conflicts of interest with DHRemployees, and if there is a conflict, he will instruct everyone to severtheir ties to eliminate the conflict. That's what we are trying to find out,"said Norris West, the spokesman.
While he works at DHR, Pulivarti "doesn't play any role at all" in theregulation of group homes, West said.
Business practices at Evershine were examined by The Sun this year as partof the newspaper's series on lax state regulation of children's group homes.
Pulivarti is friendly with Joseph Skariah, the company's executivedirector, and has done work for him, West said. A DHR inspector was told - butdidn't confirm - during a visit to the company Tuesday that Pulivarti was aboard member, West said.
Pulivarti did not return calls yesterday. A man who answered Pulivarti'sphone at DHR yesterday initially identified himself as Pulivarti but, afterbeing asked about his work for Evershine, said he was an intern. "He is nothere right now," the man answering Pulivarti's phone said.
West said Pulivarti has told the department that he briefly advised theboard when it was reconstituting in December but was never a member.
An Evershine director, Dorothy Shuford, said Pulivarti is a director andparticipated in the three board meetings that she has attended since joiningthe board in December, including the most recent meeting Sunday to placeSkariah on leave.
"He's quiet ... but he does speak when they get to the business part andthe chairman of the board asks questions and everybody gives their opinion,"Shuford said in an interview Tuesday. She said board members aren't paid.
Bonnie Meeks, Evershine's assistant executive director, attended Sunday'sboard meeting and said Pulivarti participated as a member.
Referring to state departments that license group homes, state regulationsstate: "An employee of the agency may not be a member of the licensee's boardof directors."
It's unclear when Pulivarti joined the Evershine board.
Meeks said Skariah told her that Pulivarti arranged the visit to Evershinein December 2003 by McCabe, who spoke at the company's Christmas party.
The state pays Evershine $104,115 a year for each of the foster childrenplaced in its group homes.
The tax-exempt company's executive director, Skariah, expensed Caribbeancruises, luxury SUVs and meals while making $135,275 a year. Skariah hasacknowledged using $24,000 in group home funds in 2002 to settle a sexualharassment complaint. His wife receives $74,813 for what current and formeremployees have called a light-duty job. The couple collected another $32,400 ayear renting two houses to the firm.
Evershine's board is placing Skariah on leave while it examines thebusiness practices.
Officials at DHR have said they didn't know about the spending atEvershine. The officials could not produce an inspection report filed by aformer inspector while she was responsible for inspecting the company in 2003and 2004.
Maryland spends $157 million a year on the 330 homes in the state. TheSenate Budget and Taxation Committee has scheduled hearings on strengtheningstate oversight.
Meanwhile, DHR expects to add as many as five inspectors to its staff ofeight who license and monitor the homes.
Pulivarti's official biography on the DHR Web site says he is director ofpublic relations for Life and Hope International. Skariah founded a charity bythat name, which was formed to help the poor in the United States and Indiabut is defunct, corporate records on file with the state show.
Pulivarti, 55, of Beltsville, is active in Prince George's County politicalcircles and the South Asian community in Maryland, according to current andformer county politicians and community leaders.
Campaign contribution reports show Pulivarti donating to Republicans andDemocrats, from the Republican State Central Committee of Maryland to Friendsof Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Pulivarti is a part-time inspector for the county liquor board, making justunder $10,000 a year working 20 hours a week, a clerk at the board said.Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a Democrat, appointed him tothe Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, a volunteer group, a spokeswomansaid.
Pulivarti began working at the Governor's Office of Asian-Pacific AmericanAffairs at DHR in May 2003, his official biography says. An immigrant fromIndia, he acts as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s goodwill ambassador toAsian-Americans while promoting understanding of their heritage and practices,according to the biography.
The Asian-Pacific American Affairs office - as well as similar statecommissions promoting Hispanic affairs, farm labor and women - are housed inDHR and operate under the department's chief of staff, according to anorganization chart.
"They are sort of part of us, but their mission is completely separate,"said West, the DHR spokesman. "Therefore," West added, Pulivarti "would havenothing at all to do with any regulation of group homes."