Straight 2 the Heart Atty. Clyde Bennett (Source: straight2theheart.org)
Inspector General Randy Meyer
Pam Green of Easter Seals
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -
The shock of the Great Recession. Unemployment in Ohio above
10.5%. Billions in stimulus money flowing as wide and deep as the Ohio River.
Cincinnati ended-up getting nearly $1 million in stimulus
money for a job training program called Constructing
Futures. The idea was to prepare out-of-work minorities and women for
construction and apprenticeships. Eight Cincinnati nonprofit groups signed-up
to be a part of the job training program: Laborer's Local 265, Easter Seals
Tri-State, Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, Butler Tech, Cincinnati-Hamilton
County Community Action Agency, Allied Construction Industries, Straight 2 the
Heart, and Cincinnati Labor Agency for Social Services.
Out of the $1 million they got, more than $255,000 is under
scrutiny by state investigators.
A group called Straight 2 the Heart is one of the
organizations getting a lot of heat. State investigators want to know if
Straight 2 the Heart spent more than $57,000 improperly. Its leader is Lanore
Cross. About a month ago, she hired attorney Clyde Bennett, who agreed to talk
with FOX19 about Cross's situation.
"She has been in contact with the authorities," Bennett
said. "I'm her attorney now, so I'm acting as her agent. So I'm in contact with
them along with Ms. Cross."
What authorities, like Ohio Inspector General
Randy Meyer, want to know is whether Cross was justified in billing the
government for so much of her salary. $45,000 is in question because, as the
inspector general's report states, if Cross was spending 50% of her time on the
job training program as she claimed, she would've had to have worked a total of
15 ½ hours a day, seven days a week.
"In this situation," said Meyer, "the number of hours that
she is claiming against the grant was too significant for her to be able to
actually do in a legitimate workday."
But Cross's attorney is pushing back. He's urging people not
to get the wrong idea about what he feels are just some bookkeeping issues.
"Everything in every invoice that she submitted for work was
actually done for the grant," Bennett said.
Also under investigation is the fact that Straight 2 the
Heart used stimulus money to rent office space from Ty Stuckey, who's a
Straight 2 the Heart board member. That's a clear conflict of interest.
"I don't think that conflict rises to the level of
wrongdoing," Bennett said. "It might be inappropriate but it was not wrong and
it was not criminal."
There's more to this controversy, though.
A letter from the Ohio Secretary of State's Office, obtained
by FOX19, shows Stuckey's business that was renting space to Straight 2 the
Heart got in trouble in 2007 for not paying taxes. Stuckey still claims on
his LinkedIn profile that he's the owner of TYS Construction. But in the
eyes of the state, it's a business that doesn't legally exist because its
articles of incorporation were canceled six years ago.
It also doesn't look good for Straight 2 the Heart to use
government stimulus money to pay a former business with tax troubles.
Mr. Stuckey did not respond to FOX19's request for comment.
With all these red flags, it makes you wonder who was
supposed to be watching out for the taxpayer. The first line of defense was
supposed to be Easter Seals Tri-State, which was the fiscal agent for the job
training program. That meant Easter Seals was responsible for collecting
invoices from all of the other job training groups.
Easter Seals has a new president, Pam Green, who wasn't in
that role at the time. But she agreed to answer our questions.
"Did you do any audits or do any monitoring visits of your
other partners?" we asked
"No," Green responded. She saw the job as having "to pretty much collect all of
the invoices and submit it to ODJFS."
That's the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services,
taxpayers' second line of defense in this case.
The inspector general's report details --- and organizers
involved in the Cincinnati job training program also tell FOX19 --- that ODJFS
gave conflicting, confusing instructions about what the stimulus money could be
We're told you might have to deal with five or six different
bureaucrats over the life of the grant, each with their own ideas about what
the rules were. Here's a prime example of how it played out, according to the
inspector general's report:
"In an email to the partnership," the report says, "ODJFS
denied a request for reimbursement of approximately $500.00 related to (a)
Yet for a $3,000 graduation dinner on another occasion, Job
and Family Services said no problem.
"There were many frustrating times, I will say, during the
grant period," Green told FOX19.
The inspector general's report may not be the end of the
controversy either. Meyer has now forwarded his findings to the U.S. Department
of Labor, which could demand some of the money back.
"So it could be the taxpayer in Ohio on the hook again?" we
asked Meyer at his office in Columbus.
"It's the taxpayer all around on this," he said, "because
it's their money from the federal system. So yes."
In FOX19's commitment to balanced news, we also want to point
out that there were dozens of success stories that came out of all this. The
Easter Seals says of the 228 people who graduated from the program in
Cincinnati, at least 60% got jobs or paid apprenticeships.
Tuesday, June 18 2013 11:09 PM EDT2013-06-19 03:09:14 GMT
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