CHICAGO – Gov. Pat Quinn's administration chose a Chicago social-service provider to distribute millions of dollars in anti-violence money, just months after state audits raised serious questions about the way the group was handling money, according to a published report.
According to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times on Sunday, the selection of the Chicago Area Project on the city's West Side four years ago came even after the state determined that the group's problems were serious enough to ask for the return of more than $200,000 in bills paid for a separate summer jobs program. The money has not been returned because CAP disputes the findings of the audit and any suggestion that it was overpaid.
Quinn's office is reviewing the grants sent to the project and maintains that the governor did not know until recently about any problems. But the article is the latest chapter in a story about the anti-violence program that has dogged Quinn for weeks and could hurt the Democratic governor as he seeks re-election against his Republican challenger Bruce Rauner.
CAP oversaw organizations receiving state money through the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, the $54.5 million anti-violence program Quinn launched in 2010. The anti-violence program is now being examined by federal and county officials, as well as a legislative panel looking into how the money was spent before and after Quinn's election campaign in 2010. The U.S. Department of Justice has also asked state officials for information pertaining to the program.
Possible problems with CAP first surfaced in 2010, when Illinois Department of Transportation auditors raised concerns about its performance and the performance of four other vendors that played major roles in the summer jobs program, a $7.8 million initiative started under ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2008.
An IDOT audit team concluded that the vendors could not substantiate nearly $650,000 in billings to the state. CAP's share — $214,214 — was the largest of any of them.
Months later, another now-defunct agency in Quinn's administration, the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, put CAP in charge of $4.15 million in Neighborhood Recovery Initiative funding in two Chicago neighborhoods.
State Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza opened an investigation and referred IDOT's audit reports to Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office in October 2010. Her office declined to take action and indicated the program was part of a federal investigation, according to Meza's office.
State records indicate that Meza alerted Quinn's office to the allegations of misspending in 2011, the newspaper reported. But a Quinn spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson, said that the governor himself did not learn of concerns about the Chicago Area Project's "oversight" until "recent months."
CAP Executive Director David Whittaker said in a statement issued by his publicist, Rick Jasculca, that CAP disputes the audit's findings and the allegations of overpayments.
CAP appealed the IDOT decision to a mediator, who heard the case in May 2012, Whittaker said. The dispute still has not been resolved.
Both Whittaker and Jasculca declined to say whether CAP had been contacted by federal investigators about either the summer jobs program or the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney James Lewis in Springfield would neither confirm nor deny to the newspaper the existence of a federal probe into either program.
Information from: Chicago Sun-Times, http://www.suntimes.com/index