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Nonprofit got state cash to help ex-inmates; critic calls ‘fraud’

Project H.O.P.E. Inc. Early Learning Community Development Center Dixmoor.

Project H.O.P.E. Inc., Early Learning and Community Development Center in Dixmoor.

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SPRINGFIELD — Thousands of state anti-violence grant dollars from Gov. Pat Quinn’s scandal-tainted Neighborhood Recovery Initiative went to a south suburban nonprofit to help re-integrate freed teen and young adult prison inmates back into society.

It was a noble idea except for one thing.

The nonprofit that the state paid with anti-violence grant money to handle re-entry services in Thornton Township actually was operating out of a day care center in south suburban Dixmoor.

On top of that, it was later learned, there was really no re-entry program at all — nor any proof that the organization, Project Hope, Inc., did anything for the $15,770 it received from Quinn’s administration to perform re-entry services, state records show.

It took three months for the Healthcare Consortium of Illinois, the larger nonprofit that the Quinn administration put in charge of NRI spending in Thornton Township, to figure out the scheme and to begin the process of turning off the spigot of taxpayer dollars, state records show.

“It’s more evidence that suggests the oversight and controls necessary for programs like this were severely lacking,” said state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, co-chair of the Legislative Audit Commission, which is leading a legislative probe into the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.

“Re-entry services inside a day care, I think, is questionable. But aside from that, if they weren’t performing services, then the concern switches to the fact there are many not-for-profits in communities around the state who are fighting desperately for state dollars, and they’re doing very good work with those dollars,” Barickman told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Any waste of dollars here takes away from the ability to put those dollars to work at the agencies that are performing well,” he said.

Calls and emails about the matter to officials with the Healthcare Consortium of Illinois and Project Hope went unanswered this week.

State records show the Healthcare Consortium of Illinois entered into a subcontract with Project Hope in April 2011 to perform re-entry services for juveniles returning from Department of Juvenile Justice youth centers and for adults between 17 and 24 who had been released from state prisons.

It’s unclear on what merits Project Hope was recommended for the task in the first place by the Healthcare Consortium of Illinois.

But the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, the agency Quinn put in charge of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, and the governor’s office itself appeared to have played an active role in signing off on subcontracting choices such as Project Hope that were made by the larger nonprofits chosen to oversee anti-violence programming in 23 city neighborhoods and suburban townships, state records show.

“Hi, Toni, Malcolm and Billy,” Barbara Shaw, the Violence Prevention Authority’s executive director wrote in a December 13, 2010, email to then-Quinn deputy chief of staff Toni Irving, Central Management Services director Malcolm Weems and Quinn senior adviser Billy Ocasio.

“I’m getting ready to come upstairs and hand deliver packets of materials for you to review prior to our meeting on Thursday when we will review and approve (or not) the lead agencies’ provider partner recommendations,” Shaw wrote.

It’s unclear what exactly were in the packets of materials Shaw was writing about. But a Dec. 16, 2010, email from Shaw to Irving, Weems and Ocasio had a large spreadsheet of potential Neighborhood Recovery Initiative vendors listed. Project Hope was one of several subcontractors identified on the list and awaiting approval.

It didn’t take long for problems to surface after the group signed its subcontract with Healthcare Consortium of Illinois in April 2011.

By June 2011, the Healthcare Consortium of Illinois determined that Project Hope was not meeting the terms of its contract. Later that month, the Healthcare Consortium of Illinois suspended its deal with Project Hope, and in August 2011, terminated the deal entirely, citing “poor performance and budgeting concerns,” state records show.

Project Hope was “not meeting the deliverables of their contract, no re-entry program existed and their location was not conducive for the population that the re-entry component must assist,” according to an April 2012 timeline emailed to Shaw and a colleague by Jaclin Davis, the administrator Healthcare Consortium of Illinois chose to oversee $1.2 million in anti-violence programming in the township.

Davis is the wife of state Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood.

The Sun-Times reported in April that she received more than $137,000 in state-subsidized salary and benefits over two years to oversee NRI programming in Thornton Township on behalf of her employer, Healthcare Consortium of Illinois.

But Jaclin Davis appeared to be among those most actively raising the red flag over Project Hope.

In a January 2012 email, Davis was sharply critical of Project Hope’s unwillingness to provide “supporting documentation” for an audit sought by the Violence Prevention Authority after an earlier audit attempt failed. Davis suggested to the head of the Healthcare Consortium of Illinois that any further attempt to audit Project Hope likely would be futile.

“This memo is in regard to the 2nd audit that IVPA requested on 1.29.12 regarding Project Hope,” Davis wrote to Salim Al Nurridin, the CEO of Healthcare Consortium of Illinois, who did not return a message from the Sun-Times.

“There was no additional supporting documention provided to actually conduct an audit, only new and more elaborate excuses on both Dr. Allen and Mr. Gumm’s part,” Davis wrote, referring to Project Hope executive director Marlene Allen and chief financial officer Darryl Gumm.

Neither returned phone calls from the Sun-Times.

“My position still stands that Project Hope Early Learning Center intentionally deceived HCI and the displacement of responsibility is malicious,” Davis continued. “None of the monies provided to enhance their reentry program occurred due to the reentry program not existing at their Dixmoor location as stated in their application, which in itself is fraud in the execution.”

Healthcare Consortium of Illinois argued that Project Hope owed it — and taxpayers — $15,770 for re-entry work it never appeared to perform. A February audit of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative by Auditor General William Holland indicated then that the money was still outstanding.

A spokeswoman for the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, into which Neighborhood Recovery Intiative programming was folded when the Violence Prevention Authority was disbanded in 2012, said Tuesday that the state holds the Healthcare Consortium of Illinois responsible for the apparent misspent funds.

“As lead agency, [Healthcare Consortium of Illinois] is responsible for repayment of the funds to the state,” agency spokeswoman Cristin Monti Evans told the Sun-Times.

Evans said the Healthcare Consortium of Illinois informed the state in March 2014 — a month after the release of Holland’s audit and more than two years after Davis described Project Hope’s dealings as a “fraud” — that it intended to sue Project Hope to recoup the missing money.

“We have no tolerance for misuse of state funds and are working to recover every penny of that grant,” Evans said.

The governor’s office offered a similar view.

“We’ve taken the issue of the now-defunct NRI program’s mismanagement and oversight shortcomings extremely seriously,” Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman said. “If any grantee or sub-grantee is found to have acted improperly, they should be held accountable. We have zero tolerance for mismanagement, fraud or abuse.”



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