State investigating grants to nonprofits with ties to Dwight Evans
Officials at the center of a confidential state probe are keeping their mouths shut as the Pennsylviania inspector general looks into two Philadelphia nonprofits with ties to state Rep. Dwight Evans, for alleged mishandling $1.5 million in state grants since 2006.
The state has frozen funds to the Urban Affairs Coalition and the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp. Officials at the Department of Community and Economic Development confirmed Monday that funds to the two nonprofits had been frozen, but declined to say why.
Reports published over the weekend allege that the funds were frozen as part of an investigation into the mishandling of state grant monies by the UAC and the OARC.
Both groups have deep ties to Evans, who did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
They were also the recipients of quite a bit of state largesse during Evans’ 20-year tenure as chair of the Democratic Appropriations Committee. Since 1999, OARC has received $28 million in state grants, and UAC has gotten about $24 million.
Evans was once one of the most powerful men in Harrisburg. However, in 2010 he was ousted as committee chair by members of his own delegation, angered at how closely he controlled access to state grants.
OARC, a nonprofit dedicated to education, economic development and housing in West Oak Lane, was founded in 1983 by Evans.
A receptionist at OARC’s office said its CEO and president, Jack Kitchen, was out all week for the holiday and would return the Tribune’s call next week.
Evans also has close connections to the Urban Affairs Coalition and its president and CEO Sharmain Matlock-Turner. The group manages between $20 and $50 million annually, and has administered $390 million in state funds since 1999, Matlock-Turner said.
Investigators are trying to figure out if the coalition ignored grant rules, failed to keep track of grant monies and intentionally went around bidding regulations in its handling of a $400,000 grant for the North Philadelphia East Falls Neighborhood Initiative. State officials said coalition officials doled out the money in increments, cutting checks for $10,000, the maximum exemption for bidding rules.
In a statement released Monday, Matlock-Turner said she has made multiple requests to the state seeking the report that has served as the basis for media reports on the investigation, and declined to comment on the investigation until she had seen it.
“We have again requested a copy of the state audit and will explore every avenue to secure it,” she said. “It is tempting to respond to these accusations; it is painful not to. We must have a copy of the report so that we can respond to the inaccuracies in the article, review all charges and respond in detail.”
The Urban Affairs Coalition has engaged Ross Associates, a Center City public relations firm, to handle questions from reporters, and principal Bill Miller said after seeing the report UAC officials would “be eager to discuss it.”
In the period being investigated by state officials, a total of $1.5 million has been called into question. The report, cited Sunday by the Inquirer, said state officials were concerned with poor bookkeeping practices and a “lack of compliance” with the terms of the grants.
The largest of the grants being investigated was a $1 million allocation, administered by the UAC, to Harlee Manor, a for-profit nursing home operated by Leland Beloff, a former city councilman.
For-profit ventures are ineligible for state funds.
Beloff did not respond to requests for comment made through the nursing home.
Another of the grants was $365,000 that went to the Rev. James Hall, pastor at Triumph Baptist Church in Hunting Park, and an aide, Frances Stallings. After they each received a lump-sum payment in 2010 they continued to get checks – $3,333 to Hall and $2,812 to Stallings – until July 2011.
In documents apparently included in the state investigation, the monies were intended to fund several church programs, including one called “Praise and Dance” which requires participants to attend church.
State funds are also ineligible for projects tied to specific religious beliefs.
According to the audit, there was “no evidence or supporting documentation to validate what the two employees were doing . . . through the entire grant period.”
A recording at the church said its administrative offices were closed Mondays and no one responded to a voicemail left Monday morning.
The Inquirer based its report on a confidential document that has been seen by few others.
The Tribune, on Monday, was unable to get a copy of the report.
An official at Inspector General Kenya Mann Faulkner’s office told the Tribune that investigative reports were not made public.
“The office of inspector general does not release our investigative reports,” said James H. Timko, special assistant to the inspector general.
It was a fact that angered Matlock-Turner.
“I am outraged that – after 20 years of working in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), and with leaders in Harrisburg as a successful funds manager – we are being maligned in the Philadelphia Inquirer by a report that has been unavailable to UAC,” she said.