Assisi Inc., Prince George's County's only home for battered women, has been closed down by its board of directors because of mounting debts and continued allegations of misuse of funds in the past by Assisi officials.
William Knight, a lawyer who serves on the board of directors, said yesterday that the Upper Marlboro shelter will be giving up its lease and ceasing all operations on Aug. 1. Efforts will be made to relocate the 10 or so women now in the shelter, he said.
Last week, Assisi's executive director, Elizabeth Fischer, who started the shelter two years ago and has run it ever since, handed in her resignation to the board. Fischer had come under fire for allegedly mismanaging Assisi's financial records and program.
Last April the Prince George's County government, which supplied most of Assisi's funding through a federal manpower program, cut off further funding and ordered an audit after discovering that the shelter could not account for money it collected and used.
Government officials also found that the shelter's operators had failed to return employe withholding taxes to the government and had not provided many of the services that Fischer had promised.
Fischer could not be reached for comment yesterday. In the past she had said that the shelter was "having growing pains. We're going from a volunteer organization to a funded organization. We've been playing catchup with the books."
Knight said the board has paid off as many debts as it was able to afford in the last few months but still owes about $19,000 for utility bills, salaries and other expenses.
"Right now we have more bills than we can handle," he said. "We're going to go inactive -- cut everything off and hopefully regroup. This is a worthy program and it might get back together or it might take another form."
Knight said the board will attempt to raise enough money from donations to pay off its remaining debts.
The board's decision to close the shelter followed months of intense bickering over Fischer's ability to run the shelter.
Several board members quit a few months ago after being criticized for requesting Fischer's resignation over the allegations of fiscal impropriety.
One of those board members, Assistant Sheriff James Hubbard, said yesterday he felt the shelter would not have been forced to close if the board had taken some action sooner.
"They've closed the barn doors after the horses are out. Elizabeth Fischer didn't have the financial expertise or the experience with programs to run Assisi," he said.
Since it opened two years ago in a Mount Rainier house. Assisi has provided shelter to 800 battered women and children who fled their homes. Last year, the shelter moved to the former site of the German Orphan's Home, 63 acres of rolling countryside near the Prince George's county seat.
At that time Assisi also obtained a $110,000 grant through the federal comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) that the county government administers.
Months later, county officials discovered that many of the programs for which the grant had been given -- including a 24-hour hot line and childrens counseling -- did not exist and the CETA money could not be accounted for.
It was at this point that the funds were cut off and the audit ordered. County officials said yesterday that the audit has not yet been completed.