Nonprofit reported to inspector general

By Greg Gelpi

An incident report about a local nonprofit's handling of grant money has been forwarded to the U.S. Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General for investigation.

The Atlanta Regional Commission filed the incident report after learning that the Youth Empowerment Project Inc. diverted grant funds meant for job training to pay for its daily operations, said Mary Margaret Garrett, the chief of Workforce Development for the commission.

The Atlanta Regional Commission awarded the grant to Youth Empowerment, Garrett said. Grant recipients must sign contracts specifying how the grant money will be used. It's not common, but if "suspicious" activity is found, it is procedure that an incident report is filed with the inspector general's office.

"It's in their purview to do that," Youth Empowerment Project Executive Director Glenn Dowell said. Dowell, who said he hadn't been aware that the Department of Labor hadn't been paid, said no money was used illegally.

BKR Metcalf Davis, the auditor for both the Atlanta Regional Commission and Youth Empowerment, conducted an audit of the grant money per an agreement between the two organizations. The independent audit found no "unusual" or illegal activity. If a crime had been committed, the inspector general's office would have contacted him, Dowell said.

Garrett said her office is awaiting a final report from the inspector general's office before determining how this will affect Youth Empowerment's eligibility for future grants through the Atlanta Regional Commission.

As is policy, the U.S. Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General would not confirm or deny the receipt of any complaint.

Clayton County Attorney Don Comer said that the county has continually given grants to Youth Empowerment Project, but said the county doesn't have the personnel to provide oversight for these grants.

Youth Empowerment is largely funded through a combination of grants, including $120,000 from Clayton County during the past four years. The most recent of these grants was made in July in the amount of $30,000.

Dowell has also asked the county commission for surplus computers, furniture and other items, but the commission has yet to act on the request.

Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman-Elect Eldrin Bell wouldn't comment on the county's current oversight of taxpayer money, but said he intends to provide oversight as he deems necessary.

"When I take office, I'll be looking at all grants and taking any actions I deem necessary to ensure accountability at all levels," Bell said.

Dowell said he welcomes any oversight of grants, adding that "(Bell) will certainly see that we do more per dollar than most nonprofits."

Youth Empowerment has 16 employees and one consultant, Dowell's daughter, who is paid $600 every two weeks, Dowell said. The nonprofit pays about $30,000 monthly for salaries, including Dowell's salary of $1,200 every two weeks.

The nonprofit organization, dedicated to youth education, mentoring and counseling, according to its charter, contracted with the Department of Labor to provide job training and life skills training.

Youth Empowerment hired the department to provide the services in July 2001 and extended the contract each year since, the last contract being signed in May.

Youth Empowerment accrued a debt of $163,154.83 in that time. Dowell agreed in June to a payment schedule to pay the money it owes the Department of Labor.

The Department of Labor is charging 7 percent interest and a 10.72 percent administrative cost monthly.

Instead of going to the Department of Labor, money went to paying for "operational expenses," Dowell said. The money intended for the Department of Labor did not go to him and did not go to pay anyone else, and it was not used illegally, Dowell said.

Youth Empowerment has begun paying back the debt, according to the Department of Labor.

"As of (Monday), payment is up to date," said Sam Hall, the Georgia Department of Labor director of communications.

There were "ongoing conversations" between the department and Youth Empowerment, he said. It would not have been a situation in which Youth Empowerment suddenly learned of the department's intentions to collect the money.

The Department of Labor served as a subcontractor of funds provided by the Atlanta Regional Commission, Hall said.

The audit made a list of recommendations for improving Youth Empowerment's finances and for avoiding further financial problems, all of which were implemented, Dowell said.

The nonprofit was founded 12 years ago and operates out of a former church in Riverdale. The organization is currently refinancing that building. Dowell, who works full time for the Atlanta City Schools, is paid for the work he does with Youth Empowerment Project Inc. He said earlier this week that all the money will be repaid and his organization will continue to operate.