NW Philly city-council staffer accused of misusing grant dollars meant for gun-buyback program
A City Council staffer is at the center of a federal audit claiming the Philadelphia Safety Network (PSN) misused nearly $480,000 in grant funds awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In Sept. 2009 and Oct. 2010, the DOJ gave the organization grant funds totaling $800,000 to support the group's "Goods for Guns" programs.
Those programs distributed $100 grocery-store gift certificates to residents who turned over unwanted firearms to the Philadelphia Police Department during a series of neighborhood-based events.
The organization held seven buy-back events between July 2010 and March 2012.
The audit, however, found that PSN used $479,183 of that grant money for purposes that were "unallowable, unsupported or unreasonable." The total represents 62 percent of monies awarded to the organization.
City Hall ties
During that stretch, Raymond Jones, who now serves as spokesman for Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass and formerly worked in Fourth District City Councilman Curtis Jones' office, was the organization's sole employee.
The audit questions Jones' compensation while serving as executive director between Jan. 2009 and March 2012. During that time, Jones took home $81,942 worth of excess salary, none of which was approved by the organization's board.
In 2010 and 2011, Jones took home far more than $90,000, the annual salary authorized by the organization's board for those years.
In 2012, his salary was $26,328. The board had only authorized a salary of $22,500.
Auditors said Jones' excess pay is "unallowable and constitutes abuse."
Jones was also singled out for using PSN's bankcard for personal needs, including retail purchases and cash withdrawals. The funds, used between July 2008 and Sept. 2010, were traced back to grant funds, included those awarded by DOJ.
Other details from audit
According to the audit, Jones reimbursed the organization, but still owes the organization $3,389 which was used to pay for a parking ticket, hotel room and, among other things, gas. None of those expenditures was connected to PSN business, according to the audit.
Beyond Jones, the organization was also cited for being unable to account for $28,000 worth of grocery-store gift cards purchased or donated to support "Goods for Guns" events.
Another $34,003 used to pay rent and utility costs at a "under-utilized" PSN property used for an unrelated program was deemed "an unreasonable use of grant funding."
The audit also questions PSN's Board of Directors, saying that the group "failed to provide any real oversight" over Jones or the organization itself.
"We met with PSN's five Board Members and determined that none had more than a cursory understanding of the operation of the organization, its funding sources and budgets, the Executive Director's daily activities, the financial condition of the organization, or the status of any audits of the organization," it stated.
One of those board members was Jones' sister. Auditors did not find any misconduct, but said they believed the relationship "compromised her ability to provide effective oversight of the organization and the Executive Director."
The audit includes 11 recommendations, which asks the board to "remedy" the misused grant funds and create policies and procedures that ensure better oversight of the organization and specifically the executive director.
Jones did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NewsWorks, but discussed the accusations elsewhere.
Bass' office also did not immediately respond, but acknowledged the request. This story will be updated if one is provided.
In a response to the audit, which offers recommendations but does not threaten criminal or civil charges, Jones wrote that PSN has suspended all operations until a new board is elected. He also wrote that he has provided the DOJ with all supporting documents regarding the organization's expenditures.
In response to questions about his excess salary, Jones repeatedly states that, as executive director, he served several roles, including project manager, public-relations director, grant manager and outreach coordinator.
State Sen. Anthony H. Williams, a likely mayoral candidate, issued a statement regarding the audit's "disturbing" results on Tuesday.
"Philadelphia Safety Net's 'Goods for Guns' program has made a difference in the safety of the community," he wrote, "but learning that much more of the money could have helped to remove hundreds of other guns from Philly's streets is tragic."
"Part of my violence reduction initiatives agenda has been to buy back guns. We've accomplished a lot in this area. It saddens me to learn we could have accomplished more."