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

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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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