LARGO — A Clearwater community organization has agreed to repay more than $37,000 to an agency that formerly funded it to resolve discrepancies that arose during a financial audit last summer.
Bilal Habeeb-ullah, founder and director of the African American Leadership Council, denies the money supplied by the Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board was used inappropriately but said he will take responsibility.
"We have agreed to pay back what they say are disallowances," Habeeb-ullah said. "That's where we're at with them, and with us, we're just trying to re-establish the AALC."
The agreement, finalized Thursday at the Juvenile Welfare Board meeting, puts an end to a contentious saga that began in July when two people complained that agency's finances were being mishandled.
A fiscal review did not identify any malfeasance and an investigation by the State Attorney's Office did not find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
"I want to be clear that I don't believe there was any misuse of funds, but there was some very poor accounting," said Lisa Sahulka, director of contract management, finance and research for the JWB.
Habeeb-ullah was unable to provide documentation for $37,379 in expenditures for 2007, Sahulka said. The JWB, which uses tax dollars to support social services programs for children and families, provided $494,536 for the organization that year.
Pinellas Core Management Services, which manages funding for some programs supported by the JWB, discontinued funding for the organization in September over the bookkeeping concerns.
Shortly thereafter, the city of Clearwater pulled $88,000 in funding, as well as its contract with the council for use of its Martin Luther King Jr. Center in North Greenwood. The council managed the center for the city and provided tutoring, computer training and other services for local youth.
The center reopened three months ago; programs and services are now being managed by Pinellas Core Management Services.
As part of the agreement, the council must make scheduled payments that will end Dec. 31.
The council's lawyer, Cory Person, said Habeeb-ullah agreed to the settlement because "it's in the community's best interest."
"The AALC's position was that they wanted to move forward and put this behind them and get back to providing services to the community, which is what they do best," Person said. "This has been a long, tedious process for the organization and Mr. Habeeb-ullah."
Habeeb-ullah said it was an unfortunate end to a long-term relationship.
"I hope it's closure to this chapter with the Juvenile Welfare Board with this agreement," he said. "I'm not pleased that it happened this way, but we'll deal with the hand that was dealt."
In the meantime, he said, the organization is considering other fundraising options with the hope of getting the program "back up and running."
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4162.