WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (December 5-11, 2011)

SCANDAL

Abuse Claims Roil School.” By Sophia Hollander. Wall Street Journal. December 6, 2011. Poly Prep Country Day school in Brooklyn said it is forming an advisory committee to bolster its sexual abuse prevention efforts after decades-old allegations involving a beloved football coach flared up again in the wake of the Penn State University scandal. The school’s announcement last week in a letter sent to faculty, staff, parents and alumni said the committee’s leaders would include Lisa Friel, the former chief of the sex crimes unit in the Manhattan district attorney’s office and a school parent. But some alumni criticized the task force as a “distraction” from what they consider the most pressing issue: accepting responsibility for decades of alleged abuse students suffered at the hands of a football coach Philip Foglietta between 1966 and 1981, which is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit brought by nine plaintiffs. The school acknowledged in 2002 that it had received “credible allegations that such abuse occurred at Poly Prep.” But it hasn’t issued a detailed accounting of the allegations. The formation of the advisory committee comes after an essay by three alumni published on a Washington Post blog last month, which compared events at Poly Prep to the recent Penn State scandal involving an assistant football coach. Poly Prep officials vigorously dispute the comparison and note that Mr. Foglietta is dead and that the alleged abuse occurred decades ago under a different headmaster. The blog post has sparked a passionate debate among the school’s alumni who have discussed the allegations again recently in emails, phone calls, letters to the school administration and on social media sites such as Facebook. Some said the current administration shouldn’t be held accountable for events that occurred so long ago under different leadership and fear that the lawsuit could imperil the school. Others said the abuse allegations, if true, are a travesty that has never been adequately addressed, preventing victims from healing and squandering a moment to demonstrate the moral leadership the prestigious Brooklyn private school prides itself on.

State Funds Theft Alleged.” By Andrew Grossman. Wall Street Journal. December 8, 2011. Four people were arraigned Wednesday on charges of stealing state money that was funneled through a nonprofit organization founded by a state senator of Queens. Two of those charged are close to state Sen. Shirley Huntley, a Democrat from southeast Queens: Patricia Savage, president of the nonprofit Parent Workshop Inc., and an aide to Ms. Huntley; and Parent Workshop’s treasurer, Lynn Smith, who is Ms. Huntley’s niece and shares a residence with her. The indictment accuses Ms. Savage and Ms. Smith of taking for themselves $30,000 in state money secured by Ms. Huntley for the nonprofit to spend on holding workshops. The funding came in the form of a so-called member item: grant money requested by lawmakers for nonprofitsin their districts. The case is being prosecuted by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who, before he was elected, was a colleague of Ms. Huntley’s in the Senate. Ms. Huntley, who is in her third term, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. The attorney general is also investigating another charity that received member item funding from Ms. Huntley, according to a person familiar with the matter. The senator declined to comment through her chief of staff. The indictment also alleges that the women falsified contracts and other documents to help obtain the money. They are each charged with 11 counts of grand larceny in the third degree and filing a false instrument.

Troubled Charity Gets Funds; Nonprofit Affiliated with Brooklyn Democratic Party Chairman Faces State, Federal Investigations.” By Joseph De Avila and Jacob Gershman. Wall Street Journal. December 9, 2011. Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a housing and social services group once headed by Assemblyman Vito Lopez, won three awards totaling more than $845,806. It was one of dozens of programs and businesses awarded money through a competitive grant and tax incentive program for economic-development projects set up by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. The funds to the group were announced a month after the city’s Department of Investigation issued a scathing report about Ridgewood Bushwick that charged that the group had submitted inaccurate expense reports and tax returns. The nonprofit was also faulted for not securing the approval of its board before raising the pay of its executive director, Christiana Fisher, to $782,000 in 2009 from $336,000 the year before. The DOI report led to an ongoing probe by the state Attorney General’s office into possible violations of laws governing nonprofits, said a person familiar with the matter. The group is also the subject of ongoing investigations by federal prosecutors in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Ridgewood Bushwick was founded in 1973 and has become a $100 million social-services enterprise often described as the backbone of Mr. Lopez’s Brooklyn political machine. The organization runs a nursing home, provides home-care services and develops affordable housing projects with 541 employees and 150 volunteers, according to its 2009 tax filing. The majority of the group’s revenue comes from government funding. Ridgewood Bushwick spokesman Scott Short declined to comment on the ongoing investigations. Mr. Lopez, a 14-term assemblyman who is Kings County Democratic Party chairman, no longer has an official role in the nonprofit. Staffers at Mr. Lopez’s office didn’t return requests for comment.

Under fire for credit card use, president of Urban League of Portland Marcus Mundy steps down.” By Kate Mather. The Oregonian. December 9, 2011. Marcus Mundy, president and CEO of the Urban League of Portland, stepped down Friday amid growing concerns that he improperly used the nonprofit’s credit card. The 53-year-old immediately left the $91,000-a-year job he’s held since 2006. He did not return calls for comment Friday. Board member Quentin Strode will serve as interim president as the league immediately starts searching for a new president, Wilhoite said. Multnomah County auditors had questioned Mundy’s spending for years and said this week that about $44,000 of his credit card expenditures didn’t have a clear business purpose. After months of requests for receipts, officials warned that county funding for the league could be cut within days if their concerns weren’t addressed. The county has given the league — which operates on an annual budget of roughly $1 million — about $729,000 in the past three years, largely for senior citizen services. Mundy first drew scrutiny after he failed to provide receipts for the league’s MasterCard during a routine review in 2009. Auditor Colleen Yoshihara gave the league a financial rating of 3 out of 5 points, two steps down from its top rating of 1 in 2006. The receipts she eventually received only increased county concerns, officials said. Among the stack were costs for a March 2009 trip to Beijing, bills for groceries and $108 for “human hair” at a Northeast Portland beauty salon. In her final report, Yoshihara cited a “complete breakdown in controls and accountability” for the credit card. She recommended closing the account unless the president’s card handling improved dramatically. The league has faced similar problems twice before. In the late 1980s, the nonprofit accrued about $400,000 of debt that auditors later attributed to then-president Herb Cawthorne’s spending. After rebuilding its finances, money problems struck again in 1999, when president Lawrence Dark and other board members resigned amid allegations the league mismanaged public money.

At Elite Prep School, Abuse Case Won’t Go Away.” By Ginia Bellafante. New York Times. December 9, 2011. To a distant observer through the years, it would have seemed that the benefits of a private school education in New York had accrued generously to Philip Culhane. The son of a CBS News correspondent, Mr. Culhane, who is now in his mid-40s, grew up in the Cobble Hill neighborhood and from fifth grade on went to Poly Prep, the well-regarded school in Brooklyn where his great-grandfather had gone as well. From Poly, Mr. Culhane went on to Williams College and then to law school at New York University. Soon after, he arrived at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, where he has been a partner for nine years, operating out of the firm’s Hong Kong office and rising to become a leading private equity lawyer in Asia. Mr. Culhane’s, of course, is precisely the sort of trajectory that so many parents, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to educate their children, have come to expect. In addition to this assumption of success is the quiet belief that privilege is its own inoculation — against the ugly and the unseemly, against the sort of terrible things that one hears about in institutions that lack the philosophy or resources to vet for the best and most caring educators and stewards. It is conventional wisdom that sexual predators target children who are “vulnerable,” and by vulnerability we mean, in large part — whether we care to admit it not — an existence outside the cosseted world of the affluent. In truth, all children are vulnerable in institutions that prize status and reputation above their responsibility to protect their charges. In a federal lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Brooklyn two years ago (and again in the public eye via a series of articles in The Daily News), Mr. Culhane and eight other Poly Prep alumni say the school engaged in epic levels of moral and practical mismanagement for decades, in regard to the perversions of a football coach, Philip Foglietta, who died in 1998. Mr. Culhane and the other plaintiffs say Mr. Foglietta repeatedly sexually abused them along with dozens of other students — in cars, locker rooms, houses and apartments, and on squash courts — during his tenure from 1966 to 1991.

Tough Questions After Audit of Arts Panel.” By Reyhan Harmanci. New York Times. December 10, 2011. An official audit by the city controller’s office has confirmed what employees and the local arts community have suspected for years: The operations at the San Francisco Arts Commission are a mess. The audit of the commission, a city department that has 40 employees and an annual budget of $10.2 million, concluded that a general lack of oversight contributed to problems that include irregularities in its grant programs and the improper use of administrative money. The review was requested by JD Beltran, the interim director of cultural affairs, who assumed the job after the department’s previous director, Luis Cancel, resigned in late July. The city controller’s office published the results last month, and several leaders in the arts community said they feared that the negative report could adversely affect the city’s willingness to pay for arts programs. The arts commission was formed to promote the arts in San Francisco, which it does through various programs and projects. It is also responsible for the city’s public art collection, which is worth $90 million. The department is overseen by a panel of 15 volunteer commissioners who are appointed by the mayor. “The revelation of the controller’s office was that no one was watching the ship,” said Ms. Beltran, an artist who has been an arts commissioner since 2009. The audit attributed many of the problems to Mr. Cancel’s management, which, it determined, led to a climate of confusion. The audit described a “culture of mistrust” in the department, with many employees citing “fear of retribution” as a hindrance to reporting abuses of power. The review included interviews with past and current staff members.

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