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Nevada Religious Group Gets Federal Money to Help Prisoners, Delivers Nothing

Nevada Religious Group Gets Federal Money
to Help Prisoners, Delivers Nothing

by Matthew T. Clarke

Alliance Collegiums Association of Southern Nevada (ACASN), a faith-based organization led by black ministers with the stated mission of providing prisoners with support services after parole, received a federal grant for $423,000 in October 2002. However, ACASN, which is headed by the Ministers Alliance Association of Southern Nevada (MAASN), has yet to deliver any services to prisoners. Not surprisingly, ACASN receives no mention among the faith-based initiatives praised by President Bush.

ACASN is supposed to be patterned after the Ridge House, a successful Northern Nevada program which also operates three small facilities in Southern Nevada. Ridge House and ACASN split a $900,000 federal grant set up by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. The Rev. Willie Davis of the Second Baptist Church of Las Vegas heads MAASN.

Several of ACASN's board members have resigned citing a variety of irregularities. When asked about the irregularities, Reid threw the responsibility onto the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

"The Department of Justice is responsible for auditing this grant, and if there is any irregularity in the financial dealing of this program, the people who acted wrongly will be punished, as they should be," said Tessa Hafen, Reid's spokeswoman.

However, the people voicing their concerns seem to be the only ones receiving punishment. On January 31, 2003, Tobey Benitez, ACASN's Director of Counseling, wrote Willie Davis a letter expressing concern about the handling of federal monies and Willie Davis appointing his wife, Emma, as Chairman of the Board without seeking or receiving the board's input or approval. On February 4, 2003, he received a letter from Emma Davis firing him.

There are other irregularities surrounding the organization. It identified itself as a non-profit organization in its DOJ grant application, but IRS records show it to be for profit.

"When this group came to us, it was our understanding that although they were not a nonprofit [it] would be administered as a nonprofit, and that was our intent in getting them the grant," said Hafen. "They can't be making money from it."

Whether they are making money or not, it is clear that they are spending lots of money.

"All they're doing is spending money, and none of it has gone to benefit the prisoners," said Benitez.

Former board member Kirby Burgess, resigned in January, 2003, because, "decisions were being made without people being consulted" and there had been no board meeting called since the grant money arrived. Burgess is also director of the Clark County Juvenile Justice Services.

Burgess said other board members who resigned were uneasy about Emma Davis having been made executive director by her husband, but none of them had reported their concerns to government officials.

"In retrospect, we should have pushed the issue, but all the board members are on other boards and, with our work and career schedules, we have to let things slide," said Burgess. "But this, we should have paid more attention to."

Morse Arberry, a Las Vegas Assemblyman, said he decided to resign in March. According to Arberry, he allowed Willie Davis to put his name on the list of board members because Davis is his pastor and he believed in the organization's mission.

"He just added my name to the list," said Arberry. "A lot of times people just want my name to be on the board member list to help them out. I told him I'd do what I could to help them out, but right now, I'm spread too thin."

Autumn Keyes-Ita, site administrator for the Community College of Southern Nevada (CCSN), also decided to resign from the board in March, saying Willie Davis never attempted to get the board's approval to install his wife as executive director. Keyes-Ita received notification of the installment in a letter from MAASN.

Bob Bailey, a businessman, resigned from the board because he was overloaded.

John Esperian, an English professor at CCSN, has remained on the board because of the importance of the program to the community. He said the group already had a lease on a house expected to hold up to 10 parolees and had set the goal of having it ready by early fall 2003.

City licensing records show that, in January 2003, ACASN applied to license a house, but it didn't meet zoning and fire safety requirements.

Sandy Finelli, Ridge House spokeswoman, noted that Ridge House was initially designated as ACASN's fiscal agent, but that soon after the money arrived, ACASN started demanding 70% of the money, creating tension between the organizations. ACASN claimed they deserved more money than Ridge House because they served a more populous area. Finelli countered that Ridge House also served the Las Vegas area and a significant portion of its expenditures were there. Finelli also noted that Ridge House received half the grant because it was an already successful program which had been highly rated by audits conducted by the Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC).

DOC records show that 68% of parolees who don't receive treatment return to prison after one year. Only 24% of prisoners sent to Ridge House had returned to prison after three-years.

Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal

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