Executives at a rehabilitation center that is Los Angeles County's largest recipient of taxpayer dollars for drug treatment are giving themselves salaries and contracts that experts say are unusually lucrative for a nonprofit.
The Tarzana Treatment Center's chief operating officer, Albert Senella, earned $428,057 in 2007 while its chief executive, Scott Taylor, made $330,732 for working 32 hours a week, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
Taylor, who is also chairman of the board of directors, also earned $237,956 as legal counsel aside from his salary.
The two executives and two board members also own stakes in six real estate properties leased to the center as its headquarters and treatment sites. In 2007, the four men collected rent of more than $2.27 million.
Tarzana Treatment Center is a $45 million a year business that is 85 percent funded by public money. It treats more than 6,000 people a year for drug addiction and alcoholism.
Senella said he and Taylor are allowed to make money as individuals despite the center's nonprofit status and they are meeting all legal requirements.
They said board members always sought the best deal for taxpayers, disclosing potential conflicts of interest in tax filings and abstaining from votes on those matters.
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Senella said the board of directors has "gone through great lengths to make sure that what we are doing is done openly and properly."
The pay, the executives said, reflects decades of success achieved by chasing government grants and expanding services.
Steven Winston, an executive of the New York-based nonprofit treatment center Daytop Village, told the Times that the Tarzana executives "are making what for-profit people make." Winston earns $173,000 a year at Daytop, which takes in $53 million a year.
Ken Berger, who heads the nonprofit watchdog group Charity Navigator, said high compensation undermines a nonprofit's mission of public service.
The county routinely conducts audits to monitor how money is being spent. But the incomes of Tarzana executives have not been questioned.
"Everyone agrees that they are one of the better providers in the area," said John Viernes Jr., director of the county Alcohol and Drug Program Administration. "We don't tell them what to pay their executives."
Frances Hill, a professor at the University of Miami specializing in nonprofit tax law, said conflicts of interest were inherent at Tarzana because the chief executive wears so many other hats: chairman of the board, lawyer and landlord.
"My jaw is dropping over this," she said.