Criminal Justice

Lens' Gert Town investigation draws IG attention; city review met with resistance

By Jessica Williams, The Lens staff writer |

As a result of an investigation by The Lens, the secretive director of the Gert Town Revival Initiative not only had to provide answers to the city about her finances – but the organization may well have to face the inspector general’s probing eye, too.

During a May monitoring visit, the organization’s director, the Rev. Lois Dejean, would not provide all the information requested by the city, said Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant. Based on the partial information Dejean did provide, he said, the organization lacks sufficient financial documentation to show how $404,000 of city money was spent.

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Dejean did not return an answering-machine message requesting comment for this story. Gert Town Revival Initiative board member Tracie Washington declined comment on the matter, writing in a text message that she questioned the integrity of The Lens’ reporting.

The $404,000 was just a fraction of the more than $51.6 million that the Gert Town area received from now-defunct Earhart Boulevard pesticide manufacturer Thompson-Hayward Chemical Co., which was blamed for years of health problems in the community. The city’s chunk of the cash was initially slated to help pay for the costs of administering the settlement, but city officials instead in 2005 issued the money to nearby Xavier University. In turn, the school sent the $404,000 to Dejean’s non-profit organization and tasked her with providing community development for the area.

Grant released a statement that hinted that the initial monitoring visit yielded, at best, foggy results.

“All of the Gert Town Revival Initiative records were requested for our review; however, the organization only provided certain documents,” Grant wrote to a reporter at FOX 8, a reporting partner of The Lens.  “Based on the information provided, the City has determined that the Gert Town Revival Initiative lacks sufficient internal controls, procurement policies and procedures, as well as appropriate documentation outlining how the lawsuit settlement funds were used to support the organization’s activities.

“We have learned that the Office of Inspector General is conducting a formal investigation. We fully support this effort.”

In an interview today, Grant was unclear when asked whether or not the cash from the settlement could be considered private or public funds.

“We managed it as public funds,” he said. “There are certainly processes and procedures that relate to all kinds of public dollars that we have certainly tried to fulfill in the same instance with these dollars, but it doesn’t meet the same tests as public money.”

Howard Schwartz, the first assistant for investigations in the Inspector General’s Office, released this statement to The Lens regarding his investigation.

“The Inspector General’s office learned of this allegation from your FOX 8/Lens investigation. We are determining the appropriate response.  If it calls for an investigation, we’ll do that. If it calls for a referral, we’ll do that.  So right now we are determining what we are going to do.”

City officials first announced they were scheduling a monitoring visit of the organization after The Lens published its original story earlier this month, with a follow-up story days later.

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About Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her reporting on charter school transparency and governance. In 2012, she was part of a team that received a National Edward R. Murrow Award for their work following a New Orleans family's recovery after Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Edna Karr Secondary School in Algiers, and she obtained her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. She can be reached at (504) 575-8191.

  • Jack Frost

    Couple of good things to investigate..Inquire with the Gert town neighbors and people that own property around there to see if Rev. Lois Dejean helped in anyway. Also Rev. Lois Dejean Grandson is a Pastor at another Church in the City of NO and it was told to me that she has given a lot of bikes, holiday baskets and other gifts to his church from the $404K that was to be used for Gert town. If you’re interested in the name of the Church let me know on here and I will find it out and get back with you

  • sobieski

    You know what, after receiving a $51.6 million payount gert Town should look a helluva lot different than it does now.

    Tracie Washington works in Ike Spears’ building in Gentilly, literally down the hall from Ike (when he’s in NO), right? And where does here own LJI non-profit get its cash again? Check.

    But as bad as being totally unwilling to account for that $400,000+ is, where the heck is the other $51 million?????

  • sobieski

    Any indication this plan was ever followed?

    8.25.03 TP:

    “In response to “Residents fuss over Gert Town funds,” Aug. 11, there are a few things that should be clarified.

    The Gert Town Revival Initiative , a collaborative of neighborhood groups, requested that the city release the funds from the settlement to GRI. GRI’s intent is to use those funds to produce a plan to revitalize the neighborhood. Through a partnership agreement with the mayor’s office, the Urban Technical Assistance Project of Columbia University has been retained to develop a strategic revitalization plan, which represents the collective interest of the Gert Town community

    Xavier University, as a member and at the request of GRI, will act as fiscal agent for the project until GRI receives its 501 (c)3 designation. With the support of the mayor and the City Council, the passing of the ordinances allows the division of Housing and Neighborhood Development to release the funds to GRI, making the partnership a reality.

    This step forward is the result of the dedicated commitment of the members of GRI, the city administration and Columbia University. These groups will work diligently to bring a better quality of life to the residents of Gert Town.

    Renee Thomas, Chairman, Gert Town Revival Initiative”

    Also, hate to be ridiculous, but who is Renee Thomas? No relation to Oliver, right?

    Who paid for the travel to Switzerland?

    7.9.06 TP: “Three New Orleans residents are traveling to *******Geneva, Switzerland, for the upcoming United Nations Human Rights Committee meeting to argue that the panel should investigate whether the United States government violated international human rights standards by not doing more to help hurricane-displaced residents return to their homes. Monique Harden, co-director and attorney for Advocates for Environmental Human Rights in New Orleans, said the United States has long advocated that nations should honor the rights of their citizens to return to their home communities after natural disasters. But she said the United States has not provided sufficient housing, job training and relocation assistance, thereby making it impossible for many residents to return to New Orleans. Joining Harden at the meeting will be the ****Rev. Lois Dejean of the Gert Town Revival Initiative and Natalie Walker, like Harden a member of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights. …”

    1.7.06 City Business: Yet another director – “Robert Mayfield, director of Gert Town Revival Initiative , said he wants to keep residents informed to try to bring back the community.”What we want to do is document all of the challenges in the community. We need to establish a neighborhood repopulation effort,” Mayfield said. “There needs to be one area where people can receive information about how they can get resources. We’re devising a survey to try to find out where people are and we’re trying to get the word out there that there is assistance in the neighborhood to try and help people come back. People in Gert Town are relying on public resources.” “