The trust was the go-between used by council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), who recently settled a city lawsuit that had alleged he used trust grants for a luxury sport-utility vehicle and personal travel. Although there is no indication that other council members have financially benefited, some critics say the council members have used the trust in ways the council did not intend when it created the trust in 1999.
Several private donors have become so disenchanted with the trust that they have stopped participating in it. The trust’s board members are appointed by city officials, and it uses a combination of city funds and private donations, with most coming from taxpayers.
City officials directed more than $15 million in the past four years to the trust through earmarks or designated grants. The earmarks, which were standard practice until last year, specified a group without bidding. Under the ban on earmarks, designated grants specified only a purpose that required bidding, but some officials helped choose the recipients.
●Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) secured $387,000 from the trust for an ice arena whose board over time donated more than $13,000 to 10 city officials, including $550 to Alexander’s 2007-08 campaign.
●Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) sidestepped earmarks by allocating $1.5 million in designated grants to the trust and guiding the funds to several groups in his ward.
●Thomas also influenced the disbursement of $1 million in grants targeted for his ward, suggesting recipients, including several that did not file required tax documents.
Besides the instances involving council members, former mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s administration asked the trust to send $400,000 to an anti-gang group led by a Fenty supporter, according to interviews. A former Fenty official confirmed that account but declined to elaborate.
Alexander and Graham said they did not personally benefit or do anything wrong. Thomas’s office declined to comment.
The Post also found that although the trust requires grantees to report how they use the funds, it is unclear whether those reports are monitored. For instance, the trust could not confirm whether it had reviewed the $392,000 grant that Thomas allegedly spent on himself.
“The trust has been abused, kicked around and totally politicized,” said Max Skolnik, director and founder of Kid Power Inc., which runs learning programs for under-served youths. “It’s a tough trap, because we’re all beholden to the trust, but none of us are happy with how it’s operating.”