Joseph K. Skariah

Joseph K. Skariah, who runs Evershine. (Sun photo by Chiaki Kawajiri / October 18, 2004)

A group-home company executive who expensed Caribbean cruises, luxury SUVs and the settlement of a sexual harassment complaint while making a salary of more than $135,000 has resigned, the company's lawyer said yesterday.

Joseph Skariah, founder and executive director of Evershine Residential Services Inc., has given up his positions running the company and serving on its board of directors, said Quinton Roberts, a lawyer for the tax-exempt company.

Skariah resigned out of concern that public scrutiny of his ties to the company could jeopardize its continued operation, the lawyer said.

State inspectors have cited the company for violating state regulations. Evershine, which receives about $104,000 a year per child from the state, must meet standards if regulators are to renew its licenses that expire this year.

"Joseph Skariah resigned on his own because he did not believe the company would receive a fair shake going forward if he was still an active part of it," Roberts said. The board approved his resignation Friday.

His departure occurs after an investigation by The Sun that documented lax state regulation of care, spending and staffing at group homes for children. As part of the investigation, the newspaper found that Skariah and several other group-home owners used state funding to pay high salaries, rents and other expenses to themselves, relatives and friends without state regulators knowing or checking.

Skariah drove a $41,000 Acura sport utility vehicle expensed to the company and made $135,275 in salary. In 2002, he expensed a $24,000 settlement in a sexual harassment complaint. He and his wife, Lillykutty Joseph, have been renting two houses to Evershine for $32,400 a year. She also received a $74,813 salary from Evershine for what former employees have called a light-duty job.

Meanwhile, current and former employees and residents complained about inadequate care and supervision.

Last month, a 12-year-old boy living at an Evershine home in Randallstown cut a counselor's finger with a kitchen knife during an outburst, police said. The boy was arrested and charged with first-degree assault, police said.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee is to begin hearings Tuesday on improving state regulation of the publicly funded but privately run group homes. Maryland pays $157 million a year for 2,700 youths living in 330 of the homes.

The state Department of Human Resources licenses many of the homes, including 10 of Evershine's facilities housing 26 boys. Elisha B. Pulivarti, a department official, recently resigned from his $60,000-a-year job after the newspaper disclosed his ties to Skariah and Evershine. Pulivarti has given up all links to the company, Roberts said.

During visits and conversations over the past several months, DHR has pressured Evershine to improve its operations. "There are issues that have to be resolved," said Norris West, a department spokesman.

The company, based in Owings Mills, pledged to make improvements after DHR inspectors visited in February and reported concerns from current and former staff members about improper care, lack of staff to cover all shifts and "retaliation for reporting inappropriate behaviors of staff" to management.

DHR Secretary Christopher J. McCabe is watching Evershine to see that the company fulfills its pledges, West said.

In addition, a DHR inspector has told Evershine officials to develop plans of care for each resident, make sure they are always supervised, check the criminal backgrounds of all employees and give them the required 40 hours of yearly training, said Roberts, the company lawyer.

Bonnie Meeks, interim executive director, has hired a social worker to develop the plans of care, Roberts said. In addition, the company is reconstituting its board of directors to make sure it provides vigilant oversight, appointing three new members, Roberts said.

Skariah, 53, who established Evershine in 1999, did not return calls. Skariah and his wife will continue renting to Evershine, but Skariah is no longer drawing a salary or any other compensation, Roberts said.

His wife's job has been changed to training coordinator and her salary, which Roberts would not specify, was "significantly reduced."

While welcoming Skariah's resignation, Susan Burger, director of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Baltimore Inc., said Evershine officials need to hire more qualified staff and provide better care - and regulators need to make sure that they are.

"What really matters is, how does that [resignation] trickle down?" said Burger, whose volunteers serve as advocates for foster children at Evershine and other homes in court proceedings. "And are they going to do anything differently? And are they going to take better care of the kids?"