Lobbyist's salary for nonprofit questioned
Oversight of Homes Sought Board members borrowed, are paying back loans

By Henri E. Cauvin and Nikita Stewart
Monday, October 19, 2009

More than a decade ago, David W. Wilmot, a well-connected D.C. lobbyist, stepped in to replace a floundering nonprofit group that the city had hoped would care for the most fragile of its developmentally disabled population.

The D.C. government's care had been so dismal that it led to the closing of the Forest Haven asylum, a federal lawsuit that drags on today and the transfer of the developmentally disabled into group homes like those that Wilmot was asked to improve.

Now the city is taking actions against Wilmot and his nonprofit group, Individual Development Inc. In the past two weeks, D.C. officials asked a judge to put two IDI group homes in receivership and halted all referrals to the nonprofit group's 11 facilities because of "systemic" problems. Questions are also being raised about how much money Wilmot is earning from his position at IDI.

The nonprofit group is a $12 million-a-year operation, funded solely through Medicaid, that serves about 75 adult residents. Wilmot has been paid as much as $300,000 in a year by the nonprofit group, according to IRS records, and D.C. records show he was receiving six figures lobbying for Anheuser-Busch, Wal-Mart and others. His daughter is on the IDI payroll. He has borrowed $300,000 from the nonprofit group, and board member A. Scott Bolden, another well-connected lawyer who sits on IDI's board of directors, took a $55,000 loan, according to IRS records.

The District has been quite pointed in its complaint about the group. In its filing for receivership in D.C. Superior Court, the District waited until just the third paragraph of a 23-page complaint to cite Wilmot's salary (and that of IDI's chief executive, who is paid $280,000). Those salaries are unusually high in the social services industry, according to nonprofit watchdogs.

Regulators and advocates have faulted the quality of care in IDI's facilities for years. But investigations into the deaths of three residents in the past three years have brought new attention to the group and how it emerged as a crucial caretaker for some of the District's most fragile people.

Conflicting views

In an interview, Wilmot defended his salary and IDI's work. He noted that many of the people under its care not only have severe developmental disabilities but also have medical concerns that require round-the-clock care. He portrayed his role in the group's early years as selfless, pointing out that he did not take a salary in his first couple of years at the organization's helm. "I don't know very many people who would take a company in bankruptcy and not take a salary," Wilmot said.

But the D.C. government has a different view of the organization's performance. In a complaint filed Oct. 5 in D.C. Superior Court, Attorney General Peter J. Nickles said the poor quality of care was putting residents in peril at two of the group's homes, on 53rd Street SE and Edson Place NE, and cited the three residents' deaths as particular concerns. The next day, the city halted referrals to all the group's facilities, saying its network of homes is plagued by "systemic" problems, according to the suspension letter the city sent to the company.

No one has alleged that the deaths were caused by IDI caretakers. But according to reports from outside investigators, there have been numerous shortcomings in the care provided by the organization's staff, and an analysis of IDI submitted by a federal court monitor in September found "continued and persistent quality of health care issues" at the two homes targeted for receivership.

The action against IDI comes as the District is trying to convince a federal judge to end court supervision of the city agency that oversees group homes. That supervision came about after a federal judge ruled in 1978 in a class-action lawsuit that conditions at Forest Haven were so bad as to be unconstitutional. The facility closed in 1991, and its residents were placed in group homes like the ones that IDI operates.

IDI's three-member board of directors is chaired by Wilmot and is rounded out by Bolden and Frederick D. Cooke Jr., all lawyers with deep ties to D.C. politics.

Wilmot said the board approved his loan, which he received in two parts beginning in 2001. "I was in a situation that I needed the loan, and I went to the board," he said, noting that he has been forthcoming about all transactions.

Wilmot and Bolden, who got his loan the next year, said their loans are being repaid.

Wilmot's daughter Kristy Wilmot, who began working for IDI several years ago, has a background in sociology and psychology and conducts training for the organization, David Wilmot said.

He also said his lobbying fees were paid to his law firm, and those dollars were spread among associates and others who work for him. Wilmot said he takes a $60,000 annual salary from his firm.

Some experts in the operation of nonprofit groups said IDI's practices were problematic. "All of this stuff together, it just doesn't pass the smell test," said Thomas J. Raffa, a CPA whose accounting and consulting firm represents hundreds of nonprofit groups.

A public trust

Nonprofit groups are a public trust and are supposed to provide a public good, which is why they are tax-exempt, said Ken Berger, who is chief executive of the watchdog group Charity Navigator and who has run programs serving the homeless, the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill. "There's a reason that you are tax-exempt, and it's not go to give out loans to your leaders."

Bolden said he had no comment on the loans other than to say, "These loans don't come out of patient care; they're published, they're paid. Period."

Individual Development was incorporated in 1990, six years before it took over a collection of group homes operated by a nonprofit organization called We Care Projects. The District was closing Forest Haven, the asylum in Laurel that for decades had housed the District's mentally disabled.

A D.C. Council aide, Charles Dorsey, created We Care to tap into the desperate need for group homes. But Dorsey didn't have the training or experience needed to run such homes, and five years into the endeavor, We Care was in bankruptcy.

Wilmot was hired by one of the banks involved and was also a personal lawyer for then-mayor Marion Barry (D). Wilmot was tapped to lead the new board, and he recruited Bolden, a fundraiser for Barry, and Cooke, who was the D.C. government's top lawyer in the late 1980s.

Typically, people who chair nonprofit boards aren't paid a salary, experts said. But by 2000, Wilmot had an annual salary of $105,000 for five hours a week of work, according to IRS filings. Bolden and Cooke were each being paid $55,000 a year for similar commitments, although that compensation ended after a few years.

By 2002, when IDI's directors took over day-to-day management from an outside company, Wilmot was receiving $161,400, still for a reported five hours a week of work. Then the numbers jumped. In 2003, he reported that he was working 40 hours a week for IDI and was paid $346,743. In subsequent years, he would claim 40 to 75 hours a week and be paid as much as $300,000 in 2007, the last year for which IRS filings are available.

James P. Joseph, a lawyer at Arnold & Porter who specializes in nonprofit governance, said that Wilmot's other work commitments as a law partner and a lobbyist raised questions about his ability to give IDI the attention it requires.

"That is a complex job," said Joseph, who has worked on investigations at the Smithsonian Institution and American University. "I'm not saying that the $300,000 is an unreasonable amount, but he can't be devoting full time and attention to two or three jobs."

According to Charity Navigator, the average salary for the head of a social services nonprofit group with a budget in the range of IDI's would be about $150,000.

Wilmot defended his salary. "There are no other nonprofits that I know of that do what we do," he said. "They can sit there in their 9-to-5 jobs and say, 'What he gets paid is excessive.' Come and walk in my shoes."

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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