The FBI and a federal grand jury here are investigating allegations that the director of a federally funded program designed to combat inner-city crime in the District of Columbia embezzled more than $30,000 from the project before funding was cut off and the program ended.
The federal probe centers on allegations that Charles Berrin, who was responsible for coordinating funding for nine separate crime prevention projects run by an umbrella organization called Ward One, Inc., embezzled the money from the $250,000 project over the last 18 months, according to internal Justice Department documents.
Berrin could not be reached for comment.
Ward One, Inc., was a consortium of 91 community-based groups and sponsors designed to involve city residents in various measures to prevent crime. Most of the groups were located in the District's Ward 1, which stretches from Harvard University west to Rock Creek Park and includes neighborhoods such as Mount Pleasant, Adams-Morgan and LeDroit Park. The area has nigh rates of both unemployment and crime.
Once the pride of the community, Ward One, Inc., boasted a board of directors that included educators at Howard, an aide to David Clarke, Ward 1's City Council member, and other community members. Clarke and two other council members were among its initial sponsors, and in 1978 the organization received a letter from Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson praising its efforts.
After the organization's alleged financial irregularities were discovered by its directors earlier this year Berrin was fired, and the board went to the U.S. Attorney's office here, which agreed to investigate. After federal funding for the organization was cut off by Justice, the organization's directors dissolved the project. None of the organization's board members, other than Berrin, is under investigation.
In the last seveal months, the grand jury has subpoenaed the organization's financial records and called at least one employe to testify.
Two years ago, Ward One, Inc., received the $250,000 grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Adminstration, the Justice Department agency charged with helping local governments and community groups fight crime. The grant to Ward One was the maximum allowable under LEAA's Community Anti-Crime Program, which has handed out $50 million in such grants throughout the country.
Ward One, Inc., used the money to finance such projects as a $24,000 anti-truancy program run by Change Inc.; a $27,000 community patrol project run by the 14th Street Businessman's Association; and a $29,000 ex-offender's training Social Services.
The program funding was coordinated by Berrin, who was described by other board members as an eager community activist who seemed well-qualified for the position. However, according to Justice Department records and Ward One officials, the firm's board informed LEAA investigators that it had discovered instances of alleged check forgeries and other financial irregularities which reportedly took place under Berrin's direction.
The federal grand jury subpoenaed the organization's bank records from Riggs National Bank, and, according to a Justice Department memorandum dated Sept. 22, the records supported the allegations and showed that "upwards of $30,000 is involved in the alleged embezzlement."
According to sources, the probe centers on allegations that Berrin used portions of the federal grant money for his personal use. In one instance earlier this year, Berrin, whose annual salary was in the $17,000-to $25,000 range, allegedly authorized seven pay checks for himself in one month when he should have received two, the sources said.
According to an employe of the National Institute of Mental Health in Rockville, Berrin once worked there as a technical information specialist. iA Justice Department memo states that Berrin worked for a short time in Justice's own credit union within the last two months. Berrin's resume filed with LEAA also states that at various times he has done consulting work for the Congressional Black Caucus and the White House Council on Domestic Affairs, among two dozen other groups.
"He came well qualified with the proper credentials," said Ron Clark, one-time board member of Ward One, and present director of Rap Inc., a drug rehabilitation project that also received money from Ward One. "He gave all indications that he was the perfect person to head it up." o
Community leaders contacted yesterday who were associated with Ward One, Inc., before it was shut down last April, said that the organization was effective while it lasted.
"It's very pathetic," said Sylvia Walker, an assistant professor at Howard University, who was a member of Ward One's board. "The people who did volunteer to participate felt it was a worthwhile project."
The Rev. Annie M. Woodridge, whose Mother Dear's Community Center on 14th Street received about $5,000 to pay for escorts for elderly citizens, said her "courtesy patrollers" are still volunteering to work even though they had lost the federal funding.
Council Member Clarke said he lent his name as an original sponsor to Ward One, Inc., because he supported its purposes. One of Clark's aides, Ira Stohlman, was on the organization's board, according to other Ward One, Inc., officials. He could not be reached for comment.
The board members who discovered the alleged financial irregularities are cooperating in Justice's probe. Investigators are also questioning the heads of the various community groups that received Ward One, Inc., funding. Some of the groups have complained that they did not receive all of the money they had been told they would get.
A Ward One official said yesterday that the organization had received all but $21,000 of the $250,000 grant before the program was ended.