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Congressmen want D.C.'s funding of AIDS groups investigated

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By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saying that millions of federal dollars given to the District for HIV/AIDS treatment "have been lost, wasted and stolen by unscrupulous charities," two Republican congressmen called for an investigation Friday into how the city funds organizations that deliver AIDS services.

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Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent letters to the chairmen of the committees that oversee the District: Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), who leads the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), who heads the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and District of Columbia subcommittee. Issa is a member of the oversight committee.

In the letter, the lawmakers cited a 10-month Washington Post investigation that found that the District's Department of Health and its HIV/AIDS administration had given $25 million in recent years to nonprofit groups with questionable spending practices. The Post investigation determined that the city did little to monitor spending and care.

"We are concerned that the lack of oversight over . . . funding is adversely affecting the District's most vulnerable residents, and therefore request the committee begin a bipartisan investigation to examine the District's funding of AIDS programs and services, including how federal AIDS dollars are spent and the oversight framework" of the Health Department and AIDS Administration, Issa and Chaffetz wrote.

The Post investigation found that in one case, the District awarded more than $1 million to an AIDS housing program whose ailing boarders sometimes lived without food, gas or electricity. More than $500,000 was awarded to a housing program whose executive director had convictions for theft, drugs and forgery. Twice, the inspector general could find no evidence that the director was operating an AIDS group.

Some AIDS groups failed to file tax returns or obtain a business license from the city, The Post found. Others submitted employee résumés with false information.

Towns was not available for comment, and the spokesman for his committee did not return telephone calls. A spokesman for Issa and other Republicans on the committee said they are awaiting the chairman's response to the request. Towns has the option of conducting hearings into the matter or launching a fact-finding investigation, the spokesman said.

On Oct. 19, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles announced a plan to launch an investigation into questionable nonprofit groups. The FBI launched an investigation into AIDS spending in December 2006, and that probe is ongoing, an FBI supervisor said.

Nickles vowed to work with the D.C. inspector general to probe the spending. He said he will give priority to organizations that are still receiving grants, including the nonprofit group Miracle Hands, which was awarded about $4.5 million between 2004 and 2008, including more than $400,000 for a job-training center that never opened.

The District has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in the nation: 3 percent of the population older than 12, or about 15,000 people. Shannon Hader, director of the HIV/AIDS administration, said the actual count is closer to 5 percent, because many residents who have the virus that causes AIDS do not know it because they have not been tested.


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