The District government financed art and music programs, rental fees at RFK Stadium for high school football games and D.C. government agency expenses from a fund that was to be used exclusively to help the poor, a report from the D.C. auditor's office found.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in awards from the Escheated Estates Fund were made in violation of the fund's guidelines that limit grants to one a year, up to $10,000 per project, and prohibit grants to public agencies, the report said.
The fund consists of assets of District residents who die with no will and no known heirs.
In a written response to the report, Clifton Smith, secretary for the District and chairman of the fund's application screening committee, said the grants do comply with the intent of the law that established the fund.
"We take strong exception to the auditor's position that grants to art, cultural, entertainment, athletic, crime prevention and drug and alcohol organizations do not comply with the intent of the law," Smith said. "The poor can benefit from such programs, just as do other economic segments of the population."
Guidelines for the grants published in 1982 stated that "projects must be for activities exclusively for the benefit of the poor population of the District" and "must be made to District-based nonprofit organizations."
From fiscal 1979 through fiscal 1984, the period reviewed by the auditor's office, a total of $1.89 million was put into the fund, and $1.27 million was disbursed, according to the report.
The auditor's office found $215,000 in awards from fiscal 1981 through 1984 that went to projects that did not solely benefit the poor, $98,500 in grants to public agencies, and several groups that got more than one award or received more than the $10,000 limit.
Among the grants the auditor's office questioned were $25,000 awarded to the D.C. Coaches Association in fiscal years 1982, 1983 and 1984 for rental expenses at RFK Stadium to the group's annual all-star football game, designed to give college scouts a chance to see high school players.
These and other grants did not solely benefit the poor, the auditor's report argued. Other examples it found included $7,400 to the Lorton Art Program, $5,000 to the Latin Connection Tutorial Boxing Team, $10,000 for the Africans Heritage Dancers & Drummers and $7,185 for the Rufus Mayfield Parkside Reunion.
Among grants going to public agencies were $5,000 to the UDC Jazz Ensemble, $10,000 to the Department of General Services bureau of repairs and improvement, $10,000 to the Spingarn Basketball Clinic, $10,000 for the Mayor's Youth Leadership Institute, and $30,000 for the Mayor's Committee to Save the Bowen YMCA.
"Relief to the poor in the nature of football games, theatrical presentations, concerts, reunion parties, historic preservation projects and art classes may be worthy community service, however, the level of abject poverty readily observable in this community argues effectively for . . . distributions from the fund to [be made] in a manner that best serves their most urgent needs," the report said.