Justice Department audit finds misuse of grant by Hagerstown organization

September 08, 1991|By Thom Loverro | Thom Loverro,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

HAGERSTOWN -- Justice Department officials found misuse of federal money and conflicts of interest in a review of a grant received by a private, non-profit Hagerstown-based corrections association.

No criminal activities were cited and no penalties were assessed in an audit of American Jail Association records by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, which administered the grant.

But Justice Department officials, based on their December 1990 findings, have revoked the American Jail Association's letter of credit for funds the government gave the organization for a 1987 grant.

Norma Lammers, a California corrections official and president of the association, declined to comment on the review, referring all questions to the association's legal counsel, Paul Marino, who said that nearly all of the questions have been explained or cleared up.

The $556,793 grant in question is to assist local jails in developing drug rehabilitation programs and to provide research and technical assistance. The association works to advance professional training in jails and to improve jail standards and conditions.

The only way the association can continue to receive funding for the grant is through written requests for advances or reimbursements, said Cynthia J. Schwimer, manager of the Office of Justice Programs' financial services branch.

The jail association's executive director is former Washington County Sheriff Francis R. "Dick" Ford, and its board of directors ,, includes representatives from state and local corrections departments in California, Florida, Texas, Georgia and Maryland.

The probe found that workers were performing non-grant-related duties and were charging for non-grant work. The association's part-time accountant also was president of a printing firm that received much of the organization's business.

The Justice Department initiated the review after Richard Wiles, a Hagerstown resident who was marketing director for AJA until his dismissal, said in a $2 million lawsuit filed last year in Washington County that he was fired because of his part-time work to establish a ministry to help find missing children.

He charged that when Mr. Ford learned of his work through an article in a local weekly newspaper, he began pressuring Mr. Wiles to stop his religious activities. He was fired soon after in August 1990.

The suit also charges that Mr. Ford, an unsuccessful candidate for county commissioner last year, used the association's offices and equipment for campaign work without reporting those activities as in-kind contributions on campaign finance reports.

Justice Department officials said they found no evidence of use of grant money for personal political purposes, and Mr. Ford has denied using the association or its facilities for political campaigning.

The lawsuit was settled last month. As part of the settlement agreement, Mr. Wiles said, the terms could not be disclosed publicly.

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