DHR official resigns post

Sun Staff

Elisha B. Pulivarti, an official at the state Department of Human Resources with close ties to a group home company regulated by the agency, has resigned.

Pulivarti stepped down from the state post after a DHR investigation found that he was serving on the board of Evershine Residential Services Inc., a company that operates 10 group homes licensed by the department, DHR spokesman Norris West said yesterday.

State regulations specifically bar agency employees from serving on the boards of group home companies.

Human Resources Secretary Christopher J. McCabe did not mention the apparent violation in issuing a two-paragraph statement announcing the resignation.

"An investigation by our Office of Inspector general has found no violation or conflicts of interest" involving Pulivarti and DHR's group home licensing unit, McCabe said in the statement. "Still, I am concerned that an appearance of such a conflict existed."

His statement added that Pulivarti "kept the best interests of the Department in mind by graciously resigning" from the $60,000-a-year DHR job heading the Governor's Office on Asian-Pacific American Affairs.

Pulivarti left his position of two years after The Sun reported on his connections to Evershine and Joseph Skariah, the tax-exempt company's executive director.

While Pulivarti has told DHR officials that he never served as an Evershine director, a fellow board member and the company's assistant executive director have said that he participated in a board meeting May 15 to place Skariah on leave pending an examination of his business practices.

The DHR investigation found that Evershine officials "broadly perceived" that Pulivarti served on the company's board, West said, but that he didn't influence the department unit that licenses and monitors group homes.

West said the investigation is continuing but wouldn't specify what auditors are probing.

A woman who answered the telephone at Pulivarti's house would not take a message seeking comment or say how to reach him.

News welcomed

Child advocates welcomed word of the resignation, saying Pulivarti's continued presence at DHR would have undermined public confidence in its oversight of 198 group homes with 2,400 foster children.

The advocates also expressed support for DHR's investigating further any links between Pulivarti and the regulation of Evershine.

Del. Bobby A. Zirkin, who served on a governor's task force in 2001 that recommended overhauling state regulation of group homes, said the resignation didn't address what he said were systemic flaws in oversight of the privately run homes.

"Until we have greater accountability, until we have independent monitors going out to these group homes, we're going to continue to see things like this over and over and over again," said Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee has scheduled hearings, set to begin June 14, on strengthening state oversight. Maryland spends $157 million a year on group homes.

Possible links

Pulivarti, 55, of Beltsville, is politically active in Prince George's County, where he also works as a part-time liquor inspector. His role as executive director of the Governor's Office on Asian-Pacific American Affairs was to promote Asian-American awareness.

He arranged for McCabe to speak at Evershine's 2003 Christmas party, according to the assistant executive director. His official biography says he did public relations work for a charity with the same name as one established by Skariah.

Skariah expensed Caribbean cruises, luxury SUVs and meals while making $135,275 a year, The Sun has reported. He has acknowledged using $24,000 in group home funds in 2002 to settle a sexual harassment complaint. His wife receives $74,813 for what current and former employees have called a light-duty job. The couple collected another $32,400 a year renting two houses to the firm.

DHR officials have said that they did not know about the spending at Evershine. They could not produce an inspection report for the period when a former licensing official was responsible for inspecting the company in 2003 and 2004.

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