Troubleshooter: No Paychecks

GARNER It's happening to workers right here in the Triangle and it's being investigated by the state and by Troubleshooter Diane Wilson.

Several former Therapeutic Strategies employees came to Troubleshooter Diane Wilson after not getting their pay checks and not just for one pay period but several.

Former Therapeutic Strategies Program Director Miquel Ramirez says he's out $12,000. He tells Troubleshooter Diane Wilson, "Right now my house is in foreclosure. I haven't been able to pay."

Mom-to-be Broni Ademski's also missing money. She adds, "I'm owed about $6,000 to $7,000" Latezes Bridges-Watkins says she's out more than $7,000. She says, "You're steadily getting behind, spiraling downward, needing more money to stay afloat. So it's horrible as it affects every aspect of your life."

Therapeutic Strategies is a community support agency that's part of the state's mental health reform. It helps those with mental illness or substance abuse problems get help.

Now, former Therapeutic employees may have to rely on public assistance. Broni adds, "Having to look into going to a food bank, go to churches, wondering if my lights get cut off. What am I going to do?"

The owner of Therapeutic Strategies is Kathryn Wellman. She lives in a gated community, drives a luxury Mercedes, and even had enough spare change to donate thousands to political candidates recently. Kathryn Wellman seems well-off.

Miquel says, " She's a politician. She likes that lifestyle. People that look at her at say wow." But these former Wellman employees stopped being wowed a long time ago as they say she owes them back pay from June.

These former employees came to Troubleshooter Diane Wilson and she caught up with Kathryn Wellman outside her Garner office. Wellman didn't want to talk on camera but did invite her into her office to talk off-camera.

Wellman admitted she hasn't paid past, even present, employees for months because she just doesn't have the money. She told Troubleshooter Diane Wilson she's trying to rebuild and get loans to pay back-salary, back-rent on the office, and personal bills.

But before she can do any of that that she has to pay-back Medicaid for billing overcharges. In the summer of 2007, the state ordered Therapeutic Strategies to reimburse $111,743.74.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the payback was because of the 33 community support clients Therapeutic Strategies had the state found 11 weren't clinically necessary.

Also, the state found that 32 of the 33 cases weren't appropriate in duration and intensity. Wellman blames the Medicaid problems on former staffers from 2007 taking bad notes and not doing their jobs right.

As for Miquel, Broni and Latezes they say Wellman should stop making excuses and start making payments. Latezes adds, "You as a business owner have to accept responsibility for your own business."

The NC Department of Labor is also investigating Kathryn Wellman. They've even put in writing to those former employees that they're confident they'll get the back pay from Wellman but so far, nothing.

As for Wellman, she admits she owes the Department of Labor claims, and says she's working with the state on that. She does disputes how much she owes each former employee. She says the credit crunch is keeping her from getting the loans she needs to pay them. She also says she's looking for a buyer, or investors for the company.

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