Child advocates urge probe of state official's ties to group home to go further

Sun Staff

Child advocates yesterday called for an investigation into whether thestate Department of Human Resources' oversight of a group home company wascompromised by the relationship between an agency official and the company.

DHR is looking into whether the official, Elisha B. Pulivarti, is adirector of Evershine Residential Services Inc., despite a state regulationbarring agency employees from serving on boards of companies it licenses.

The advocates said the department probe, or an independent investigation,should go further.

"If someone can have influence over the frequency or nature of theinspections, that defeats the purpose of a licensing agency," said Edward T.Kilcullen Jr., state coordinator for Maryland Court Appointed SpecialAdvocates Association, which assigns volunteers to represent foster childrenin the Juvenile Court system. He was one of three child advocates who, alongwith a government watchdog, urged an investigation after reports that twoEvershine officials said Pulivarti is a member of the company's board.

Pulivarti, who denies serving on Evershine's board, is the executivedirector of the Governor's Office on Asian-Pacific American Affairs, a$60,000-a-year job. The office is part of DHR, which licenses 10 Evershinehomes housing 26 boys. The department pays Evershine $104,115 a year perchild.

Pulivarti, 55, of Beltsville is friendly with the company's chief executiveand has done work for him, but insists he merely advised Evershine as itreconstituted its board, and was not a member, a DHR spokesman said. Pulivartidid not return calls.

The spokesman, Norris West, said the agency was continuing to look intowhether Pulivarti is a director of Evershine, but not whether the licensingand monitoring of the Owings Mills company were affected by any relationshipthe official had with the company.

"I don't think that until [Wednesday] anyone in licensing knew who ElishaPulivarti was," West said.

State Sen. Ulysses Currie, who has scheduled hearings on the regulation ofgroup homes, said yesterday that he would ask Attorney General J. JosephCurran Jr. to join lawmakers in a general review of the regulatory system.

Currie, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said he telephonedCurran yesterday but they had not yet spoken.

Sambhu N. Banik, a Bowie resident who serves on the Maryland Commission onHuman Relations, said Pulivarti attended a gathering Banik organized for Lt.Gov. Michael S. Steele last year and participated in a recent celebrationkicking off Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.

Banik praised Pulivarti's work raising Asian-American awareness. "Herepresents the governor well. He is very active in advocating the goals andthe message of the governor," Banik said.

Pulivarti is active in Prince George's County political circles and is apart-time inspector for that county's liquor board.

His official biography says he is director of public relations for acharity of the same name as one founded by Joseph Skariah, Evershine's chiefexecutive.

An Evershine board member and the company's assistant executive directorsay Pulivarti is a director and participated in the board's decision Sunday toplace Skariah on leave pending an examination of the firm's businesspractices.

An investigation by The Sun this year of the regulation of the state-fundedgroup homes documented that Skariah expensed Caribbean cruises, luxury SUVsand meals while making $135,275 a year. Skariah has acknowledged using $24,000in group home funds in 2002 to settle a sexual harassment complaint. He alsoemployed his wife, who made $74,813. And together they received another$32,400 renting two houses to Evershine.

DHR officials have said they did not know about the spending. They couldnot produce an inspection report on Evershine by a former director who wasresponsible for inspecting the company in 2003 and 2004.

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