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YOUNGSTOWN Gleaners' lax record-keeping to cost city



Published: Wed, September 4, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Gleaners director said city money paid only for food bank items, not his personal expenses.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The city faces repaying $36,000 to the federal government because of virtually nonexistent record-keeping and questionable practices by Gleaners Food Bank.

Gleaners kept few records over the years it has received federal money via city hall, according to a review by the city's Community Development Agency. Gleaners, located on Pyatt Street, collects and distributes food to the needy.

Bank statements, however, show that Gleaners poured the city's federal grants and other funds into one account. That makes it almost impossible to trace how the CDA money was spent.

The review shows that $36,108 for fiscal years 1999-2000 and 2000-01 wasn't spent correctly or can't be accounted for and must be repaid to the federal government.

Another major problem is a review of checks written from that account since 1999. The review shows that Joe Lordi, Gleaners' director, used the fund for what CDA says look like personal expenses.

CDA documents show dozens of checks for mortgage payments, doctor and dentist bills, auto loan and insurance payments and more. All are attributed to Lordi or his family.

Lordi's response

On Tuesday, Lordi admitted mixing the city's federal money with other funds -- including his own money -- and writing checks from that account to pay personal and food bank expenses.

But, Lordi said, city money paid only for food bank items such as freezers. Government money never paid his personal expenses, he said.

Lordi said he didn't know about all the regulations, even though the agency has signed contracts with the city outlining them.

Gleaners is small and has operated simply since 1988, including its accounting, he said.

"I don't really know what to say. We've done it that way for 15 years," Lordi said.

The repayment is the culmination of CDA's recent review of all the agencies that get federal money via the city. CDA administers the roughly $7 million per year that the federal government provides the city. The money funds a variety of social agencies and housing programs.

In January, CDA started reviewing the spending of about 30 agencies that it funds. The goal was to verify that the nonprofit organizations function correctly, said Jay Williams, CDA director. CDA then hired an outside accounting firm, Cohen & amp; Co., to verify the results.

"You want to know where you're at. It's about accountability," Williams said.

Had worst problems

Suggestions were made to nine other agencies that they correct lax accounting procedures. Gleaners, however, was the only agency that must pay money back because the spending can't be accounted for.

Funding to Gleaners has been cut off.

City council gave Gleaners $76,959 in 1999-2000 and $70,568 in 2000-01. CDA's budget runs midyear to midyear.

CDA determined that $17,139 from 1999-2000 and $18,969 from 2000-01 in city federal funds either was spent on unallowable items or couldn't be accounted for.

Repayment of the $36,000 must come from the city's already strapped general fund. The city is facing a roughly $2 million deficit in the general fund and has laid off 60 workers, including police officers and firefighters.

City council's CDA committee will meet Wednesday evening to discuss how to handle the issue. One option is to repay the government and then seek the $36,000 from Gleaners, Williams said.

Another matter is Gleaners' board of directors, or lack thereof, Williams said. That issue dates to 1999. Among the problems is that the board of directors apparently had little, if any, function, Williams said.

There also is a conflict of interest because Lordi and his wife are board members. They must either resign from the board or Lordi's salary shouldn't be paid from funds that include city federal money, CDA said.




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