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African American Leadership Council founder: Money inquiry is biased

CLEARWATER — Everything that Bilal Habeeb-ullah has worked for since the late 1980s hangs in the balance. The program in the North Greenwood community he founded in 1990 that has helped hundreds of low-income children could be diminished. His reputation ruined.

Last month, the African American Leadership Council's Juvenile Welfare Board funding was suspended after allegations of money mismanagement. JWB funds comprised more than half of the leadership council's 2007 budget.

Habeeb-ullah says he has the answers and it all could have been resolved if he had been given the chance to explain. But those looking into the way the African American Leadership Council handled its money say he was given the opportunity.

Habeeb-ullah says he's being targeted.

"We believe it's an unfair, biased investigation," Habeeb-ullah, 50, said. "For whatever reason, they are seeking to close the doors without a full investigation."

Last month, Pinellas Core Management Services, the nonprofit organization that manages funding for some of the Juvenile Welfare Board's programing, notified the leadership council that it was pulling its funding after a forensics auditor's preliminary findings. During 2007, $494,536 of the leadership council's $875,575 in revenue came from the JWB.

The leadership council refutes the audit's findings. Its attorney, Cory Person, said the organization has cooperated fully with the investigation, but learned about the initial findings from the media. He said Pinellas Core Management Services has refused to discuss the matter.

In a Sept. 3 letter to PCMS, Person said "AALC is in full compliance with the provisions of the Agreement," and "the termination of the Agreement is a violation of fundamental notions of due process."

But Paul Lackey, PCMS executive director, said the AALC was provided with the opportunity to respond and didn't. He said the four points detailed in the Aug. 22 letter terminating funding were the most glaring problems and that the audit found others with leadership council's accounting.

"Those four points stood out as a reason that you could pull the grant and not humiliate a person," Lackey said.

The auditor's final report is to be released today.

Here are the four points the auditor listed on Aug. 22 and AALC's Sept. 3 written response.

• Excluding payroll, about $150,000, or 64 percent of the expenses reviewed, had no documentation for payments.

AALC: "This allegation is vague and ambiguous in that it doesn't not identify any specific payments that it is referring to. ... Further, AALC was required to submit expenses for reimbursement to JWB when using JWB funds. Therefore, JWB would have all documentation to support any funds disbursed by it.''

• Several payments were made directly or indirectly to AALC board members or related organizations, some without documentation.

AALC: "This allegation is also vague, ambiguous and unsubstantiated. ... The board members submit receipts, and additional documentation for their expenses. There are no other payments made in any way to board members. If you insist that your allegations in point two are correct, please provide substantiating documentation."

• A check in the amount of $45,188.75 paid to AALC in December 2007 for technology lab services to PCMS was reported by AALC as lost. However, the check was cashed and cannot be tracked to any known AALC bank account.

AALC: "This allegation is a direct result of the audit's failure to fully investigate this matter."

Habeeb-ullah believed the check was lost and contacted Lackey. However, the check was cashed and all but $12,000 paid off a line of credit. That $12,000 was then used to open a second account to ensure that monies from the JWB remained separated from other funding because the JWB was changing how it was going to disperse its money.

The AALC said PCMS was aware of the second account.

• The annual audit for 2007 conducted for AALC by Lovett & Co. CPA did not report: an existing line of credit, a second bank account opened during the year, and the lack of documentation for a significant number of transactions.

AALC: "It is important to point out that neither PCMS nor the forensic auditors ever contacted Lovett & Co. to request documentation to support or refute the allegations."

Foster Lovett has said the line of credit did not have to be listed because there was a zero balance.

"How can you conduct an investigation as important as this and not speak to all the parties involved?" Person asked. "It just doesn't make sense."

Lackey and JWB contend they were responsible only for contacting Habeeb-ullah and that if he wanted the accountant questioned, it was his duty to arrange that meeting.

Lisa Sahulka, the JWB's director of Contracts, Finance and Research, said the AALC is being investigated by the State Attorney's Office and the FBI concerning the audit. State Attorney Bernie McCabe, a JWB board member, would not confirm an investigation and said to his knowledge, the FBI wasn't involved in any matter in his office.

The AALC was to receive about $494,536 from JWB this fiscal year. That funding will end Sept. 21. The city of Clearwater provides $100,000 and allows it to lease the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center on Douglas Avenue. It is awaiting the outcome of the audit before deciding whether to pull funding.

The Eckerd Family Foundation suspended its $17,000 in funding until the outcome of the audit.

"I have not talked to Paul Lackey about any of these issues," Habeeb-ullah said. "I would think at some point he would talk to me. There should be a point that he talks to me regarding these issues. This is my life they are dealing with. This is my and the African American Leadership Council's reputation they are dealing with."

AALC founder: Money investigation is biased

African American Leadership Council founder: Money inquiry is biased 09/11/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 3:37pm]
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