Legislators react to News 2 investigation of nonprofit spending
BATON ROUGE - Two non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, connected to State Senator Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb have until Wednesday to report how they spent hundreds of thousands of state tax dollars.
State Treasurer John Kennedy compiled a list of 34 nonprofits. Fifteen of those are not in compliance with the treasurer's office and have not properly documented how they spent taxpayer money.
The Colomb Foundation and Serenity 67 are the only two on the list with notes saying, "Legislative Staff has represented to Treasury Staff that information is forthcoming."
A spokesperson for the Department of the Treasury explained these organizations have not talked with the treasurer's office or sent paperwork explaining how the money was spent. However, a legislative staffer told their office the information is coming.
Both of those organizations, The Colomb Foundation and Serenity 67, have ties to Senator Dorsey-Colomb. A News 2 investigation shows Dorsey-Colomb's husband, Sterling Colomb, is the president of The Colomb Foundation, a nonprofit based in Lafayette.
Serenity 67's listed director is Patsy Parker, Dorsey-Colomb's legislative assistant.
During the 2007 legislative session, then-Representative Dorsey-Colomb sat on the House Appropriations Committee when The Colomb Foundation received $300,000 for elderly services and community outreach. Serenity 67 was given $150,000 for similar services. Neither properly documented how they spent those funds, according to the state treasurer.
Three years later, after the legislature cut out funding for most NGOs, the Lafayette-based Colomb Foundation still received another $276,694.00 from the state directed through East Baton Rouge Parish.
Mayor Kip Holden signed off on the agreement, as did Dorsey-Colomb's assistant Patsy Parker.
The 2010 agreement between the Department of the Treasury, the City of Baton Rouge and The Colomb Foundation was "to deliver improved services to the elderly, youth and victims of crime in Louisiana through publications, counseling and educational seminars and by making improvements to the existing Colomb Foundation Community Center."
In an interview last week, Mayor Holden explained his office signs off on similar agreements often, at the direction of the state.
"I don't have anything to do with it except signing a bill that comes through," Holden said. "Frankly there are monies that come for a lot of organizations through Baton Rouge that we help. We help some charitable organizations here that help people all across the state."
That same year, a similar agreement directed through Holden's office shows Serenity 67 received another $185,000 signed and witnessed by Parker, Dorsey-Colomb's legislative assistant. The agreement said the purpose of the funding was to "provide housing repairs to five to ten low-income senior citizens." Both of the 2010 agreements are subject to the same reporting requirements set forth by the Department of Treasury.
Next week the treasury department plans to turn over non-compliant NGOs to the newly created Office of Debt Recovery, which falls under the Department of Revenue. Secretary Tim Barfield said their job would be to recover those assets once the debt is deemed final.
However, News 2's investigation shows many of the non-compliant NGOs do not have assets, and Debt Recovery cannot target individuals. The most recent audit of Serenity 67 shows it has $27 total, and The Colomb Foundation's audit balances out to $0 for 2011.
"When a corporation owes a debt, it's generally more difficult to hold individuals responsible for those debts, but there are avenues," Barfield said.
Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera looked over The Colomb Foundation's audit reports for News 2.
"We'd like to see a little greater specificity than this," Purpera said.
Of the $276,694.00 the foundation received, $143,443 was spent on "other charges," according to the audit.
"By coding $143,000 as other charges, it really doesn't tell us what those funds were spent for. Certainly if we went in to do an audit, we would be looking for the documents to support each one of the numbers to see how those funds were spent," Purpera said.
Some lawmakers said that could be the next step.
News 2 has repeadely tried getting answers from Dorsey-Colomb about these connections. She has not returned our calls. Sterling Colomb has agreed to interview with News 2 once their paperwork is turned in to the Department of the Treasury.