SPRINGFIELD – Illinois House members have ordered up a deeper financial dive into the remnants of Gov. Pat Quinn’s scandal-tainted Neighborhood Recovery Initiative after a damning state audit in February found the now-disbanded program was beset by “pervasive” mismanagement.
The agency that once oversaw the $44.5 million anti-violence program that Quinn set up one month before his 2010 gubernatorial election has been abolished by the governor and state Legislature, and the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative no longer exists.
But similar spending on anti-violence and after-school programs has been going on for the past two fiscal years under a different agency the governor controls, the Criminal Justice Information Authority.
The House resolution pushed by state Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill, directs Auditor General William Holland to study that spending. Further, Reis’ resolution asks Holland to audit state funds disbursed by the Criminal Justice Information Authority to a social-service provider that helped implement the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, the Chicago Area Project.
In February, Holland slammed Quinn’s administration for sloppy bookkeeping and poor oversight involving the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, noting that Chicago aldermen were given carte blanche authority to choose which organizations should get the state anti-violence money rather than the state agency running the program.
Reis told the Chicago Sun-Times he pressed for the audit to test the Quinn administration’s assertion that it had cleaned up violence-prevention spending after disbanding the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, which had overseen the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. That agency’s functions were folded into the Criminal Justice Information Authority in 2013.
“What I’m hoping to find is I hope I find nothing. But if we do [find something], it just goes to show you that nothing got fixed,” Reis said. “We were assured everything got switched over and was done by the book. This audit will find out whether that was true.”
Reis’ resolution passed the House last Tuesday by a 101-5 vote. Those who voted against the measure included Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago; House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago; Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood; Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston; and Rep. Elgie Sims, Jr., D-Chicago.
The Criminal Justice Information Authority, which oversees about 20 state and federal grant programs, pledged its cooperation with Holland’s office.
“We have a rigorous and detailed grant review process, plus 30 years of successful grant management [with] no significant audit findings,” said Cristin Monti Evans, an agency spokeswoman. “We’ll cooperate fully on these audits as we would any other audit.”
The Chicago Area Project had $5.9 million in contracts with the Criminal Justice Information Authority last year. In the current budget year, the state has $5.8 million in contracts with the organization.
The group described its involvement with the state as “honorable” and predicted scrutiny from Holland’s office would demonstrate that.
“The Chicago Area Project has been a pioneer in promoting economic opportunity and combating violence in low-income communities since 1934,” the group said in a prepared statement. “Our stewardship of state anti-violence funding is fully consistent with that honorable 80-year history, as any review of the program is destined to show.”
Last month, the Chicago Sun-Times reported how state records showed the husband of Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown was paid more than $146,401 in salary and fringe benefits over a two-year period from Neighborhood Recovery Initiative grant funds.
Benton Cook III, who denied being paid that much but couldn’t recall the amount he got, received that money for serving as a “program coordinator” with the Chicago Area Project, which was in charge of doling out $2.1 million in state anti-violence funds to organizations in West Garfield Park.
One non-profit that received $3,333 in Neighborhood Recovery Initiative funding from the Chicago Area Project funding, Dream Catchers Community Development Corp., had been formed by Cook and was based in the home he shares with his wife, the circuit clerk.
Cook no longer has any affiliation with the group, a Chicago Area Project spokesman said.
In a footnote, the Chicago Area Project website indicated Monday that one of its board members is Quinshaunta Golden, who last week pleaded guilty to federal bribery and theft and obstruction of justice charges linked to a scheme in which prosecutors said she stole $433,000 in taxpayer funds while chief of staff for the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Mike Truppa, a spokesman for CAP, called Golden’s presence on the organization’s website an oversight and said that Golden withdrew from the board about three years ago. The group’s most recent tax-filing from 2011 shows that Golden was on the board then.