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Aid Meant For Athletes Sent To General Committee

Nearly $300,000 intended to aid Massachusetts Olympians was instead forwarded to the U.S. Olympic Committee for general purposes, according to a state audit released two weeks ago.

Auditors found the Massachusetts Olympic Fund, which collects Massachusetts taxpayers’ voluntary contributions and revenue from commemorative Olympic license plates, did not allocate money solely to state Olympic athletes. The Treasurer’s Office directed the contributions to the USOC, which is responsible for distributing money to individual athletes.

“What we found was that the Department of Revenue was giving the money to the USOC, and that its use was not restricted to Massachusetts residents,” said State Auditor spokesman Glenn Briere.

According to the law creating the fund, the money is to be used “to assist residents of the Commonwealth in paying all or part of any costs” associated with their participation on U.S. Olympic or Paralympic teams. This includes stipends for time not working, as well as equipment and other training costs throughout the year.

According to USOC regulations, no state is allowed to distribute funds directly to athletes; rather, states’ funds must be filtered through the national organization. As a result, some states enter into agreements with the USOC to ensure the funds they transfer reach only their residents.

The Department of Revenue said it had been aware of the discrepancy before the report surfaced and it made a similar agreement with the USOC about a month prior to its release.

“This problem was reconciled before the report came out and before the Olympics,” said Treasurer’s Office spokesman Jon Tapper. “After we alerted the USOC, they took care of it.”

The agreement guarantees capital from the Massachusetts Olympic Fund will be reserved for state residents only, which was the recommendation of the report.

Both the State Auditor’s Office and the Treasurer’s Office are confident no athletes were hurt by this oversight.

“I don’t think we can say that Olympians have been denied funding, but an agreement was necessary,” Briere said.

“Both of us [the Treasurer’s and Auditor’s offices] had spoken to the USOC,” Tapper said. “There was no harm, no foul.”

The audit also found that questionable payments were made from another check-off option, the Massachusetts AIDS fund. The report said nearly $400,000 from the fund was used to buy computers, printers and other goods, despite that the money was supposed to only be spent on AIDS research, treatment and education.

In response to the report, the Department of Public Health, which administers the AIDS fund, defended its activities but indicated it would review its contracts to ensure all allocations are made in accordance with the law.

“With all due respect, our interpretation of what constitutes prevention and education is broader than what the auditor’s is,” DPH spokeswoman Roseanne Pawelec told the Associated Press.

State Auditor Joe DeNucci said he hopes these findings will not keep residents from contributing to what he deemed important organizations.

“These funds serve worthy causes, and I hope taxpayers will continue to contribute by checking off the boxes on their tax returns,” said DeNucci. “However, the state agencies that administer these funds should make sure that contributions go only toward the intended purpose.”

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