An arcane investigation that was conducted by the Pittsburgh accounting firm Schneider Downs and submitted to Pennsylvania state officials in 2010 has surfaced. The report alleges that the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation (OARC), a nonprofit agency that was founded by Pennsylvania State Representative Dwight Evans in 1983, either misdirected or misappropriated state grant money in the amount of $12 million since 2006.
Although it’s not clear why the investigation was started, it seems to have gained momentum when Governor Tom Corbett took office. This is also when the Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development started to examine grant money to the OARC as well as the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC). The department has since shut down any funding for both groups.
What is clear is the evidence that was uncovered in the course of the investigation paints a very bad picture of Evans and his alignment to both agencies. It also calls into question the policies in which the state awards grants especially to those agencies that are politically connected and there are a couple of them. The attorney that is representing the OARC even admits that they've been conducting their business the same way for years.
Some of the findings are:
- The UAC misused $1.5 million in grant money and spent some of the money to pay a pastor and aide at Evans insistence.
- Using over $1 million in grant money to award no-bid contracts to cover consulting fees, catering services and sound engineering for events when state regulations state that anything over $10,000 require competitive bidding for contracts.
- Violating state regulations that prohibits grant beneficiaries from funding projects that they own an interest in.
- The OARC was unable to show what millions of dollars were spent on and money that was received for certain projects was often spent on other projects.
- The double-dipping into grant money by stating salaries that was paid through one grant had actually been paid through another grant.
The ironic part of all this is that the state is partly to blame for all of this. They permitted Evans, the OARC, and the UAC to reap the benefits of grant money for years without asking for an account of what the money was needed for or a detail account on what the money was spent on. They also provided them for with what was called WAM, walking around money. Millions of it in fact and no questions were ever asked.
WAM is money that politicians include in the budget that is unknown to the public. That’s right. Politicians have no problem cutting services to the poor or budgets to organizations like public school districts, but they make sure that they have the money in the budget for their personal pet projects.
Evans and his cohorts operated in secret for years as they drained grant money that could have gone to groups that really needed it, but the state has also operated in secret. They deliberately kept the investigation and its results quiet.
In 2011 Mayor Nutter might have benefitted from the results of this investigation when he reported to council members that Evans and former SRC Chairman Robert Archie pressured a charter school official to back out of a contract because Evans wanted the $50 million contract to go to Foundations Inc., another agency he was in bed with. Perhaps council members wouldn't have been so lackadaisical when they indicated that politicians will be politicians.
The reasons for the secrecy that surrounds the investigation will probably become clearer the closer Corbett gets to Election Day. Currently, his approval rating is 26% and perhaps bringing down a key player among the Democrats such as Evans will be his get-out-of- jail- free card.