Bob McPhail 6:31 a.m., May 19
Did the United Way Commit Tax Fraud When it Collected Donations for CCDC Sponsored "Registry Week"?
CCDC raised some eyebrows recently as it gave out a very lucrative and unsual contract to provide consulting services on homelessness. It raised even more eyebrows when it gave that contract to ex-CCDC Treasurer Jennifer LeSar and her company LeSar Development Consultants. The contract is unusual in that the Housing Commission is already paid to do this and cities don't typically hire outside for-profit consultants to consult on homelessness. The amount of the contract was jaw-dropping considering the State just voted to make even deeper cuts to education and other public services. LDC was paid $464,750 for their work coordinating "Registry Week" where they would collect data on homelessness. What is unclear is where CCDC's contract ends and non-profits like the United Way begin to step in with private donations.
Here is a quote from their "information packet" dated September 2010:
"The Partnership has teamed up with the nationally renowned organization Common Ground and its 100,000 Homes Campaign to survey and create a registry of homeless people on the streets downtown. Local partners in this effort include the United Way, the San Diego Housing Commission and the Centre City Development Corporation".
So we are paying LeSar development consultants $225 per hour to collect this data and enter it into a database and non-profits can also step in and volunteer their efforts for free? So how do we determine what efforts are benefiting this for-profit company and their for-profit study?
Here is a CCDC Document explaining the contract in very ambiguous and totally meaningless terms making it impossible to determine where one ends and another begins:
Here is one nugget of information that shows they are clearly being paid to do the survey:
"Gathering of data, using the Vulnerability Index survey instrument, through the 2011 Point-in- Time Count and within a portion of the shelter and transitional housing programs in downtown San Diego, during the First and/or Second Quarters of 2011, with data analysis to follow.
• Written report with recommendations regarding future data-related activities, and costs associated, to enhance coordination of information, outcomes measurements, and costeffectiveness analysis, provided to CCDC by the end of the Second Quarter of 2011.
• Recommendations regarding feasibility and costs associated with coordinating another fullscale Registry Week surveying effort in downtown San Diego during the 2012 and/or the 2013 Point in Time Count, provided by end of September 2011."
Here is a quote from the ammendment to the contract doubling the initial cost:
"Under the agreement, LDC completed initial outreach to develop support to bring Common Ground, a nationally recognized non-profit organization, to San Diego to lead a Registry Week of downtown's homeless population. The effort organized more than 250 volunteers, secured financial commitments for the costs associated with organizing and conducting the event,...."
OK, so right there we paid half a million dollars to LeSar to "secure financial committments"....so in other words.... to get donations. Did we even get half a million dollars in donations? Half a million dollars to pay someone to solicit donations seems like alot of money. That is a strange way to spend tax dollars to say the least and I wonder if it is even legal. The information packet goes on to say LDC:
"counted 1,040 homeless individuals and surveyed 740 participants resulting in the most in-depth interview of downtown's homeless population in history. Vulnerability profiles were recorded, including photographs, providing service providers with the information necessary to locate, assess housing and service needs, and place the most vulnerable individuals into housing. Also accomplished was the establishment of goals for a pilot program and accompanying one-year work plan to house the 50 most vulnerable individuals; establishment of a leadership team and technical subcommittees to gain regional support for the Registry Week effort and educate members of the leadership team on the needs of downtown's homeless; monitor best and new evolving practices across the country in order to bring those ideas and resources to San Diego; and development of a Five-Year Work Plan to end homelessness downtown."
So you can see the language is intentionally vague and and dances around this idea that private donations by well-intentioned individuals are being funneled to private for-profit companies using a benevolent sounding excuse like "solving homelessness". You can see this sets a framework for all sorts of problems. For one, it makes money laundering through non-profits to for-profits alot easier and more tempting. It also makes making illegal campaign donations exceptionally easy since people could donate to "The United Way: Registry Week" and it would end up in the pocket of Toni Atkins, State Assembly Majority WHIP, and it makes co-opting free labor from "volunteers" that come thinking they are working for the United Way quite easy for a for-profit.
This sort of circumvention of the law, pussy-footing and side-stepping around how redevelopment money can be used is precisely why citizens are so outraged that these agencies still exist.
Now to the United Way:
The United Way unfortunately has not had the best reputation when it comes to integrity and fraud including National CEO William Aramony in 1992 and Oral Suer, CEO of the Washington, D.C. chapter, convicted of misuse of donations and other allegations of employees misappropriating and embezzling funds over the years.
So here is where the United Way comes in. LeSar and Atkins are the contacts for these donations and the United Way is being offered as the non-profit you can donate tax-deductible funds through. Also the data entry for the LDC study is being done by volunteers at the 4699 Murphy Canyon Road office which is the Office of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. So non-profit space is being used to input all the data LeSar is being paid to collect.
"We are willing to sponsor Downtown San Diego Registry Week in the following ways: Provide financial support to Downtown San Diego Registry Week / 100,000 Homes Campaign effort Please specify amount: $___ Provide in-kind donations Please specify type and quantity of in-kind donation: _______
Please make checks payable to United Way, Attn: Finance and designate the donation to Downtown San Diego Registry Week. Mail checks to 4699 Murphy Canyon Road, San Diego, CA, 92123."
So a check that is written to "The United Way. Attn: Finance Downtown San Diego Registry Week" could not easily be misappropriated to pay for any or all of LeSar's responsibilities including the collection and entry of data?
"If you are an individual, business or corporation that would like to sponsor Downtown San Diego Registry Week and/or the direct benefits to homeless individuals that will follow from the data collected during Registry Week, tax-deductable Registry Week and/or inkind contributions can be made through the United Way of San Diego County using the attached Sponsorship Form. "
"Please contact either Shirley Horton, CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, at 619-234-0201 or Toni Atkins, Senior Principal at LeSar Development Consultants, at 619-236-0612 x103 for any additional information and assistance."
"Sponsorship Opportunities for Downtown San Diego Registry Week (Sept. 19-24, 2010) □ Sponsor the volunteer training session dinner on Sunday, September 19 □ $3,000 □ Sponsor the food coupons that are provided to the homeless individuals as a “thank you” for participating in the survey (we are waking people up to talk with us each morning!) – two $5 coupons per person; as many as 1,600 people = $16,000 needed □ $1,000 = coupons for 100 homeless people □ $2,500 = coupons for 250 homeless people □ $5,000 = coupons for 500 homeless people □ Sponsor breakfast and coffee for the 150 survey volunteers any of the three survey mornings (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) □ $1,500 – Monday, September 20 □ $1,500 – Tuesday, September 21 □ $1,500 – Wednesday, September 22 □ Sponsor snacks and drinks for the data entry volunteers (20 people per day) □ $250 – Monday, September 20 □ $250 – Tuesday, September 21 □ $250 – Wednesday, September 22 □ Sponsor bright-colored T-shirts for the volunteers to wear (for identification purposes as well as event participation souvenirs) □ $3,000 □ Sponsor printing of survey forms □ $800 □ Sponsor office supplies (clipboards, pencils, pens, etc.) □ $500
Ok so there it is. "please send us money for Registry Week".
Can you see the problem with this? That money may not be paying the salary of Jennifer LeSar or Toni Atkins, but it is paying to do the work they are being PAID to do. Its being solicited to "pay for Registry Week". How is that money being monitored when there is already such a grey area between non-profit efforts and for-profit efforts. If you can get the non-profit to fund the entire study and do all the work and you as the for-profit company just get the check for $464,750, doesn't that sound like a great deal?
Here is more on the "volunteer opportunities" which sound alot like what is in the LDC Contract, especially "data entry":
SURVEY VOLUNTEERS: We need approximately 100 to 125 volunteers to work in teams of four to interview homeless individuals for the Registry. This is a four-day commitment and, due to the manner in which the outreach is conducted, the same team of four must survey the assigned geographical area all three days. Each team will work together in a designated predetermined geographical area the entire three days of the registry/survey gathering. To be part of a survey team, you will need to participate in a half-day training session related to interviewing homeless people and completing the survey forms. Sunday, September 19 – Overview and Volunteer Training, 3-7 p.m. Monday, September 20 – Meet with Team/Survey, 4-7 a.m. Tuesday, September 21 – Meet with Team/Survey, 4-7 a.m. Wednesday, September 22 – Meet with Team/Survey, 4-7 a.m. Volunteer Headquarters will be located in the Horton Plaza Mall at 97 Horton Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101 directly behind the fountain on the southwest corner of 4th Avenue and Broadway (the former Planet Hollywood location).
DATA ENTRY: We need volunteers to fill 20 shifts per day (a total of 60 shifts for Registry Week). Volunteers will enter the data collected after each survey day. This can be a one-shift or one-day commitment or multiple days and times. The hours needed are: Monday, Sept. 20 – 9:00 a.m.-noon Monday, Sept. 20 – 1:00-4:00 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21 – 9:00 a.m.-noon Tuesday, Sept. 21 – 1:00-4:00 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22 – 9:00 a.m.-noon Wednesday, Sept. 22 – 1:00-4:00 p.m. The data entry lab is located at the Regional Task Force on the Homeless office, 4699 Murphy Canyon Road San Diego, CA 92123. Page 10 of 18
HEADQUARTERS VOLUNTEERS: We need 25 to 30 volunteers during the week to staff Volunteer Headquarters. Headquarters volunteers will help set up for the initial volunteer training on Sunday, September 19 and/or assist at volunteer headquarters each survey morning (food/supplies setup, cleanup and help with survey volunteer questions). We also need help breaking down the headquarters on Thursday, September 23. It would be good to have a few volunteers who are willing to supervise or who have experience supervising volunteers to be in charge of overall management each morning to help get survey volunteers out the door and download photos/collect surveys when they return. Sunday, September 19 – training event setup, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday, September 20 – 3:00-5:30 a.m. – food/supplies setup; volunteer assistance Monday, September 20 – 5:30-8:00 a.m. – cleanup, help download photos/collect surveys Tuesday, September 21 – 3:00-5:30 a.m. – food/supplies setup; volunteer assistance Tuesday, September 21 – 5:30-8:00 a.m. – cleanup, help download photos/collect surveys Wednesday, Sept. 22 – 3:00-5:30 a.m. – food/supplies setup; volunteer assistance Wednesday, Sept. 22 – 5:30-8:00 a.m. – cleanup, help download photos/collect surveys"
Again, I am simply posing the question. This appears alot like tax fraud as the United Way is using tax-exempt donations to help a for-profit company with efforts on their for-profit contract. I hope that the IRS will take a very close look at this in light of the tremendous concern about whether people's donations for what they believe is a good cause are actually being channeled to a private company.