State investigates nonprofit agency

By William K. Alcorn

YOUNGSTOWN — A state agency is investigating Mahoning/Youngstown Community Action Partnership for possible misuse of funds, nepotism, conflict of interest and a number of other issues, including weatherization work done on the executive director’s home.

The probe stems from a special financial and program review conducted by the Ohio Department of Development involving MYCAP’s Minority Contractor and Business Assistance Program and weatherization services.

Mahoning/Youngstown Community Action Partnership is a nonprofit agency that administers 11 programs in Mahoning County to help the poor and disadvantaged.

In September 2009, ODOD received an allegation that weatherization services had been performed by MYCAP employees at the residence of Richard Roller, MYCAP executive director, according to a letter sent by Atty. Candace M. Jones, ODOD’s legal counsel and ethics officer, to Richard Atkinson, chairman of the MYCAP board of trustees.

MYCAP has until Jan. 31 to respond to the financial and program review report, which includes questioned costs of $15,101.

The response must include plans of action the agency has taken or plans to correct the findings, and an implementation timetable, according to a letter sent to Atkinson from Jeff R. Bankey, ODOD’s audit chief. The ODOD review report also considered information provided by lawyers Percy Squire, MYCAP counsel, and Alan D. Wenger, counsel for Roller, officials said.

Atkinson, reached Tuesday afternoon, declined to comment and referred press inquiries to Farris Marketing, which did not respond to a phone call.

Roller said he is “personally outraged by these allegations, which were inspired by a disgruntled, laid-off employee.”

“I’m frustrated that I was not able to respond item by item earlier than this; however, I was trying to follow protocol and respond once the board had completed its review,” Roller said Tuesday.

“The board understands that my hands can no longer be tied, and that I need to respond now. I am doing so via individual press interviews today. All questions will be answered; all issues will be addressed,” he said.

“I will not allow one individual who is trying to divert attention from allegations against him to drag down the fine work this agency, its staff and its board has done for thousands of disadvantaged people in Mahoning County for the past 45 years,” Roller said.

According to ODOD’s report, conducted in October 2009, Roller’s residence was assessed for the home weatherization program Dec. 2, 2006, and materials were installed in his home Nov. 23-24, 2007. Among other things, the development department said Roller’s home was not eligible for such services based on his income.

Though MYCAP employees were paid directly by Roller, they appeared to have been “working as agency employees” at the time work on his residence was done. By not paying the employees through the agency’s payroll system, the agency did not pay required payroll taxes, the report said.

Likewise, on March 11, 2009, weatherization materials were installed in the residence of the agency’s food services manager, Jason Roller, who is Richard Roller’s brother.

In a letter to ODOD dated Oct. 20, 2009, Richard Roller said the weatherization assessment at his residence was a training exercise. He said he paid the employees directly and reimbursed the agency for materials used. The state agency said, however, that Roller did not reimburse MYCAP for vehicles and equipment used.

Though no criminal charges have been filed, both of these matters will be addressed by ODOD’s legal office, according to the report.

Further, ODOD says Richard Roller’s hiring of his brother is a potential conflict of interest. Also, according to Squire and Wenger, Richard Roller said in their presence that MYCAP employed two of his cousins and his daughter, and previously had employed other close family members.

ODOD said MYCAP should take action to eliminate conflicts of interest posed by employment of or conduct of business with family members of the executive director and other MYCAP employees.

The report also found conflicting information on whether Roller has an agency-provided vehicle or is paid nearly $1,000 a month in vehicle costs, and that MYCAP has paid a security deposit to lease an apartment at Realty Tower Apartments at a cost of $1,750 a month, to house out-of-town consultants that work for MYCAP on a regular basis.

The apartment, approved by the MYCAP trustee board, was justified as a money saver and for the convenience of having the consultants close by.

While Atkinson would not comment Tuesday, in a letter to Bankey dated Sept. 11, 2007, Atkinson wrote that trustees abolished Roller’s company-sponsored car allowance and local mileage reimbursement. Instead, the board increased Roller’s salary by $939 a month for transportation expenses.

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