Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Westside CDC Embezzlement Raises Concerns

The Ballard admnistration is doling out tens of millions of dollars in federal grant money to address the City's growing abandoned housing problem, as well as millions of dollars in crime prevention grants to various nonprofit organizations. A property manager for Westside Community Development Corporation, Elizabeth Graves, is under investigation for allegedly embezzling $150,000 in rent payments made by low-income residents according to the Star. Westside fired Graves in January, but she managed to land another job a month later working for Partners in Housing, an eastside nonprofit housing organization. The Star's Jeff Swiatek writes:

Citing records seized by police, the affidavit lists at least 36 instances when Graves pocketed for her own use tenant rent payments that were supposed to be deposited with the development corporation. The group owns and leases houses for low-income residents on the city’s Westside.

Housing Agency Executive Director Rufus “Bud” Myers said evidence in the case has been turned over to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, which has yet to file any charges.

“We consider it very serious,” Myers said of the case. “Not only was there fraudulent use of taxpayer money, but also some low-income persons were treated harshly and in some cases evicted and taken to court when they had indeed paid their rent.”
One has to ask where Deputy Mayor Olgen Williams figures in all of this. He formerly ran Christamore House, a westside nonprofit with close ties to Westside CDC before taking charge of neighborhoods for the City. Was he unaware of the allegations against Graves when she went to work for Partners in Housing? Is anyone really keeping a close eye on how these CDCs and other community organizations are spending tens of millions of our tax dollars?


Citizen Kane said...

"Is anyone really keeping a close eye on how these CDCs and other community organizations are spending tens of millions of our tax dollars?"

No. There is an incestuous relationship between city employees and CDC employees. They all have either worked for or worked with each other in one capacity or another and they just go back and forth between both sectors until they get some of that loot. Meanwhile they accomplish next to nothing - other than being the conduit for the federal waste.

artfuggins said...

Is Olgen Williams aware of anything???

Paul K. Ogden said...

The answer is "No," Gary. No one is keeping an eye on how these organiztions spend the public grant money they receive. And even when you point out organizations and individuals who are mispending the money, no one does anything.

Many of these non-profits receiving our tax dollars have bestowed lavish salaries and benefits upon the executives and tope employees at the nonprofits. Very little of the taxpayer money actually makes it to the intended cause.

Being involved in non-profits used to mean you could expect low salaries, but the comfort of knowing you were doing a good cause. Now you can make really good salaries, but the good causes are secondary to the non-profit looking out after themselves.

swan said...

It is really chilling to realize how little shame these looters have, who operate in the name of doing good for the disadvantaged in our county. Obviously there is no one who is in charge of monitoring community organizations spending practices, to any degree that is helpful to the interest of the public.

interestedparty said...

My you are all cynical.

I'm not commenting on this particular case, as I don't know enough specifics to do so, but since I used to work for a not-for-profit, I can comment on that.

The mission of any not-for-profit should be preeminent, and workers need to be passionate about the mission and not expect "corporate" wages and perks. But people who work for NFPs have a right to a wage that is fair, not lavish, but commensurate with the organization's goals and the practices of similar organizations. When you offer very low wages and benefits, then you may attract lesser qualified people to do the work, and you may even find people who can't quite scratch by on the lower wage.
NPF work tends to be 24/7, by the way. I loved my NFP, but I made peanuts and no benefits. It about worked me to death.

The Exhorter said...

I'm no fan of the Dep. Mayor, but I think the generalizations about CDCs are quite off base. You're complaining that no one keeps an eye on how these groups spend public money in a case where someone stole money and is being prosecuted for it. Even more to the point is you don't understand the facts of the case. This woman was a property manager at one of the CDC's properties. She didn't handle any federal funds at all. The money she stole was rent payments from tenants. So you gotta get your facts straight before generalizing.

Relative to the federal dollars used by CDCs, in point of fact, its quite the contrary in terms of oversight. The level of oversight associated with most federal support is stupifying. Organizations run into problems when they have financial systems that are not up to the task, but given the amount of paper trail thats required to use these funds, abuses will eventually be caught.

I'd also push back quite hard on the notion that CDCs accomplish little. In point of fact, there are several CDCs in Indianapolis that accomplished quite a bit of investment and development in areas the private sector sees no profit in.

To the extent that there is a problem with CDC productivity (and there is) it has more to do with the fact that you have a Mayor without a real vision for or understanding of neighborhood investment, and a DMD Director who is biding his time to retirement and providing nothing in the way of leadership for his department. The result: lackluster performance, poor collaboration with the philanthropic sector and practically zero strategic intelligence behind the way we invest our federal dollars for community development.