Culture of Corruption at the OVW: Victims Shortchanged, Taxpayers Cheated


Fraud is a major problem facing domestic violence organizations nationwide. Numerous program directors have been convicted of embezzlement – here is a partial listing:

  • Paulette Wang, former treasurer of Asian Women United in Minnesota, pleaded guilty to embezzling $265,000 from her organization.
  • The former executive director of Domestic Violence Emergency Services in Roanoke, Va., was sentenced to serve one year in prison and ordered to pay $48,000 in restitution, arising from her embezzlement of shelter funds.
  • Deborah Wallace, former director of the Lighthouse Shelter in Marshall, MO, was sentenced to two years and six months in federal prison, without parole, for embezzling $400,000.
  • Mary Young, former executive director of the COPE domestic violence shelter in Lebanon, MO, was convicted for embezzlement.

The SAVE report, Accountability and Oversight of Federally Funded Domestic Violence Programs [i] reveals much of the problem can be traced to poor management practices at the DOJ Office of Violence Against Women (OVW). These are two of many examples:

  • The General Accounting Office has questioned whether the OVW was “making sound investments, given the millions of dollars spend on these evaluations.”
  • The DOJ Office of the Inspector General concluded in 2006 that OVW staff “did not conform to federal regulations and their own policies.”

Deteriorating Situation

In the past, audit failures of OVW grantees represented exceptions to the rule. That situation has deteriorated to the point that we are now seeing a “culture of corruption” at the OVW.

Recently SAVE reviewed all 40 DOJ Inspector General audits of OVW grantees conducted 2013 to 2016.[ii] The audits were done on a wide range of organizations including the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Utah Domestic Violence Advisory Council, Osage Nation of Oklahoma, and many others. Among the 40 audits:

  • In 29 out of 40 audits – 72.5% — the grantee failed to meet auditors’ minimum standards and was deemed to be “generally noncompliant.”
  • $3.6 million in OVW-funded expenditures were classified as “unallowable”.
  • $9.5 million in expenditures were determined to be “unsupported.”

One grantee, the Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach of San Francisco, was determined to be “high risk,” meaning the agency was not forthcoming in its responses to the DOJ auditors.

Major Reforms Needed

The misuse of taxpayer monies is unacceptable, and the squandering of funds designed for domestic violence victims is intolerable. SAVE now calls on Congress to:

  1. Select a director of the Office of Violence Against Women who is committed to program accountability and fiscal integrity.
  2. Direct the DOJ Office of the Inspector General to conduct a full-scale review of all the OVW policies, procedures, grant requirements, and web pages to assure compliance with all applicable laws.
  3. Transfer all 25 OVW grant-making programs to the Office of Justice Programs, which has a better track record of assuring the proper use of grant monies.

Congress should not allow the continued misuse of funds by the DOJ Office of Violence Against Women.