The scandal vanishes
It’s been nearly a week since the FBI raided the offices of the Minnesota nonprofit Feeding Our Future. Since then, there have been no further developments in the case. Could…
The prosecution of Bill Davis may have run its course with the DFL insider’s recent guilty plea to 16 counts of theft and fraud for bilking Community Action of Minneapolis out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. His son Jordan, a Minneapolis cop, will also be doing jail time after being convicted last week for helping himself to $140,000 meant to help the poor pay their heating bills.
Case closed? Not necessarily, according to a hard-hitting indictment by Star Tribune columnist Jon Tevlin. He puts several prominent board members on the spot.
The good news is they got the bad guys. Some of them, anyway.
But such systematic pillaging doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Bill Davis used charm, intimidation, political ties and the race card to stop people from asking too many questions about the agency’s finances.
Numerous board members from both the public and private sector were either oblivious to rampant misspending or tacitly complicit. Several DFL heavies, including U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, state Sen. Jeff Hayden, Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson and former Council Member Robert Lilligren, served on the board through proxies.
While state Sen. Jeff Hayden has repaid the cost of a New York City junket, the question is whether anyone else will be held accountable. Not for crimes, but for what Tevlin calls “nonfeasance” in failing to properly oversee operations at the corrupt agency.
“The reason you have a board is to make sure that things like this don’t happen,” said Ruth McCambridge, editor of Nonprofit Quarterly. She said board members were using their positions to gain clout but ignored the most basic duties and are therefore ultimately responsible for the mess.
A review of the reports, plus legal billings, shows that investigators in the case have spoken either with the public officials who used proxies or with their representatives.
Attorney Jeff Ansel said the receiver “continues its evaluation of seeking reimbursement from board members whose proxies allegedly received improper benefits from CAM,” but has focused on getting money from the proxies themselves.
It appears board members are not personally culpable financially. But clearly, collection agencies still have plenty of follow up to do.
• Fay Harrison, the proxy for Ellison on the board. CAM improperly paid for $8,870 worth of work on her home. In a settlement, her son has offered to pay back $2,500, but so far has paid just $300.
Ellison’s spokesman, Brett Morrow, said that the congressman “has not been approached requesting that he pay Ms. Harrison’s bill, and does not intend to cover her obligations.”
• Towanna Williams, a former board member. Williams owes $3,795 for a furnace paid for by CAM (CAM honchos liked to give away furnaces to people they knew, which means poor people who were not friends of Davis didn’t get them).
• Molly Thoulouis, a former CAM board member. She still owes $500, a bonus that was paid through block-grant funds, records show.
• Anthony Spears, the former CEO. Spears “authorized the improper spending by Mr. Davis” for more than $350,000, court records show.
• Patricia Banks, a girlfriend of Davis’. She was paid more than $30,000 through a “no-show job” at MAD DADS, another nonprofit agency geared toward anti-violence programs. Hayden sat on both boards.
An intern was paid another $14,000 for work that did not benefit CAM, records show. CAM also bought $1,572 worth of personalized hats and jackets for MAD DADS, which was labeled “capacity building.”
Will taxpayers get all their money back? The jury is still out on that.