April 13, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
A sign on the locked
door of ONE/CHANE this week tells visitors that the office is
closed - an effort, its leaders say, to get its business affairs
in order and to streamline its administrative costs.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday he is also
taking a close look at ONE/CHANE's finances.
"We are investigating evidence of financial and governance
irregularities at ONE/CHANE," Blumenthal said.
He declined to say what improprieties are being investigated
except to say his office is looking into a variety of problems.
"These indications of impropriety are very troubling," he
said. "We hope to resolve them as promptly as possible.
The new management is cooperative and we trust that it will continue
Without getting into specifics
about ONE/CHANE, Blumenthal explained that "any charitable
or nonprofit group is compelled by law to use its money as
contributors or donors intend."
ONE/CHANE is a community improvement organization in north Hartford
that made its name as an advocate for community interests but
has most recently been involved in housing development. Last
March, the organization's board fired its executive director,
Larry Charles Sr., after it decided his tenure was too controversial
to allow him to continue.
In January, it hired a new executive director, Frederick E.
"I don't have anything to hide from the attorney general's
office," Smith said Tuesday. "I will be extremely supportive
of the office in identifying anything that happened prior to
my arrival so that we can remedy it, so that ONE/CHANE can move
At the same time that the organization is under state scrutiny,
it is also completing its own internal audit - one that will
give it a better sense of how it has recently spent the money
it has raised, Smith said. To help in that effort, Smith has
effectively closed the group's Main Street office to the public.
"We're trying to reorganize and restructure, so that needs
to happen in isolation," Smith said, adding that the temporary
office closing is also a dollar saver. "There are some savings
of operating dollars when staff that would be managing the phones
and greeting the customers aren't there."
Smith has placed one employee
on leave as part of the organization's fiscal "belt tightening," he
As he is working to bring order to the organization's books,
Smith said he is also moving forward on programming initiatives.
For instance, he said he has applied to the city for funding
that would allow him to restart a neighborhood block watch program.
"This is a community organization that many individuals
in the community have a vested interest in," Smith said. "I
want to restore the confidence the community once had in this
ONE/CHANE's executive board President Terry Waller said he welcomes
Blumenthal's investigation. If the investigation turns up nothing,
then the organization gets a clean bill of health it can report
to its funders, he said. If the investigation finds wrongdoing,
then the organization will know just what to do to correct the
problem, he said.
"Everyone wants an investigation done," said Waller,
who added that he had once tried to get Blumenthal's office involved
last year but lacked the proof to back up his suspicions. "I
think it's a great thing. I'm elated."
ONE/CHANE is in the process of a complete restructuring, Waller
said. He and his board are awaiting results of the financial
audit to move forward, he said.
"We've been able to get some funding, but we're not getting
enough, and that's the truth," he said, adding that the
organization is making what he called drastic changes. "But
I believe we're on track."
Sanctions could result should Blumenthal's investigation find
wrongdoing, the attorney general said.
"There are penalties involved in the misuse or misappropriation
of charitable funds," he said, noting that the investigation
began within the past month. "Sometimes action is taken
against the organization, or it is taken against the individuals
who have management positions of trust."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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