D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown took action today to prevent a repeat of former colleague Harry Thomas Jr.’s theft of public funds.
Brown convened a meeting today that included Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby, D.C. Auditor Yolanda Branche and the Council’s budget director, Jennifer Budoff, to look at ways to tighten controls on money the city hands out to nonprofit groups.
They have one week to come up with a list of suggestions, said Brown spokeswoman Karen Sibert.
Thomas pled guilty Friday to stealing more than $350,000, all of it doled out through the city-controlled Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. to nonprofit groups that kicked back the funds to the council member.
The meeting, which could be a prelude to legislation, is the latest move to plug the holes exposed by the Thomas revelations.
After Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan first laid out the embezzlement scheme in a civil lawsuit last June, his office started negotiating tougher oversight requirements for the Trust, which has been used for years by politicians to send taxpayers dollars to favored community organizations.
A new agreement between the city and the Trust was signed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) on Dec. 1. It requires the Trust to submit twice-yearly reports to the District detailing its grants, and it also included tougher accounting standards for the city money in the Trust’s possession -- including the ability for the city to audit programs receiving its money at any time.
D.C. Council members are also asking Branche to do a more thorough audit of the Trust to determine whether other funds were misdirected or are otherwise at risk. Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) dispatched a letter to Branche on Friday reiterating a request for an audit — “with particular attention paid to their procedures for fostering competition and minimizing political influence in the grant-making process” — that she had first placed in July, after Nathan filed his lawsuit. Branche told the Examiner yesterday that the probe has been delayed by the ongoing federal investigation.
The D.C. Auditor had previously looked at some Trust grants in a February 2010 report. It found that the Trust provided more oversight of its grant funds than other earmark pass-throughs did, but several of the report’s recommendations vis-a-vis the Trust weren’t implemented until the new grant agreement was signed last year.
Meanwhile, Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who has oversight of the Trust as chairman of the Human Service Committee, and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who used to have oversight of the Trust, are both reviewing Trust-related records to figure out whether other funds remain at risk.
And Brown said in an interview yesterday that he intends to get tough with outside groups that get city money. He called for the shuttering of the Trust on Friday, but he he has since backed off that position a bit, echoing Bowser’s call for a thorough audit and adding his own calls for stricter oversight throughout the government.
“This is not just the Trust we should look at,” Brown said of today’s meeting. “All third-party vendors and grants that we’re giving out” need greater scrutiny, he said.