For added than three decades, Liz Robinson was one of the best arresting faces in Philadelphia’s blooming activity community.
She about alone congenital the Kensington-based Activity Coordinating Bureau (ECA) into a nonprofit with dozens of employees, a $10 actor budget, and a blue-blooded mission — weatherizing homes for low-income association — that becoming acclaim and abutment from the city’s political class.
So it came as a babyish abruptness back ECA appear this ages that Robinson, 67, had tendered her resignation as controlling director, with the ambition of dispatch bottomward in August and transitioning into a role as a consultant.
But was there added to Robinson’s abandonment than met the eye?
In backward January, a accumulation of whistle-blowers, comprised of accepted and above ECA staffers, accomplished out to ECA’s lath of admiral with afraid news: Tens of bags of dollars had been baseborn from the nonprofit through a alternation of affected invoices and crooked acclaim agenda purchases. The accumulation argued in a letter to the lath that Robinson had been apathetic to acknowledge to the allegations and afraid to burrow too acutely into the matter, according to a archetype acquired by the Inquirer and Daily News.
Part of the group’s affair stemmed from the actuality that ECA is not some small, mom-and-pop nonprofit; it’s been awarded added than $37 actor in federal grants and affairs back 2008, and $19 actor accumulated with the Philadelphia
Liz Robinson, controlling administrator of the Activity Coordinating Agency.
Housing Development Corp. and the Division of Housing and Association Development back 2009.
The burghal has witnessed separate scandals already this year with two nonprofits, the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia and Association Behavioral Health, which oversees bounded mental-health facilities.
Earlier this year, ECA’s lath asked the law close Drinker Biddle & Reath to get to the basal of the thefts. One of the whistle-blowers, Crystal Spraggins — ECA’s above animal assets specialist — claims Drinker Biddle accomplice Ronald Sarachan told her and her aeon during a affair in March that the lath would seek Robinson’s resignation. But lath associates said Robinson’s avenue was different and had been in the works for years.
During a abrupt account this month, Robinson downplayed the thefts, which she appear to Philadelphia badge in January, afore the whistle-blowers went to the board.
“The bulk of allotment complex is absolutely actual small, and the perpetrators were accursed immediately,” she said. “There are no repercussions from it, so it’s not an affair of concern.”
Robinson said the bulk baseborn was beneath than $15,000. But accouterments abundance receipts and copies of affected invoices advised by the Inquirer and Daily News appearance the attempted abstraction arrangement added up to added than $50,000.
When pressed, Robinson told a reporter: “There absolutely is no issue, so I don’t anticipate there’s any point on acclimatized on this conversation.” The buzz band went dead.
Robinson founded ECA in 1984 and about anon became a accoutrement in any discussions about activity in the region. She was a angry apostle for low-income residents, blame ECA to set up added than a dozen centers beyond the city that accommodate a ambit of services, from alms advice about the Low Income Home Activity Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to negotiating with account companies on a homeowner’s account and teaching basal do-it-yourself home-repair skills.
On its website, the nonprofit claims it has adored bounded families added than $250 actor over the years, weatherizing 45,000 homes, acclimation or replacing 50,000 heating systems, and preventing over 75,000 bags of carbon emissions.
Politicians were fatigued to ECA’s feel-good mission, which meant affluence of absorption and acclaim for Robinson. In 2008, then-Mayor Michael A. Nutter appointed Robinson to his Sustainability Advisory Board. A 2015 contour in Grid Magazine, a chargeless account advertisement focused on sustainability issues, declared Robinson as the city’s “grand amazon of activity efficiency“; Mayor Kenney appointed her to a nonpaid position on his alteration aggregation that fall. All of which is to say that Robinson was acceptable at what she did — and not acclimatized to actuality challenged, according to accepted and above employees.
Last year, there was a assumption of thefts from abstracts and accoutrement acceptance to ECA’s training unit, starting with a bassinet of insulation, according to one above ECA agent who batten on the action of not actuality named. Robinson initially beneath to active badge or ECA’s allowance aggregation to book a claim, but the nonprofit later recovered $12,000 from its insurer over the insulation theft, said the ex-employee, who larboard the nonprofit for addition job.
In the fall, ECA’s bookkeepers began to get apprehensive about invoices for a aggregation alleged Construction Education Alliance, which had been paid $18,500 amid September and November, and again submitted a bill for $6,338 in December.
The invoices were allegedly submitted by an agent alleged David Dennis, and payments were allegedly accustomed by Scott Coleman, who ran ECA’s training center, according to the letter the whistle-blowers beatific to the board. The aggregation angry out to be fraudulent.
An ECA acclaim agenda was acclimated to accomplish added than $18,000 account of purchases in January at a Home Depot for items that had annihilation to do with ECA’s weatherization work, like tubs and countertops, some of which were alien to a acreage affiliated with Dennis.
Robinson had annihilation to do with the thefts, but accepted and above advisers suggest she admired absorption to the incidents as a abeyant blackmail to ECA’s reputation. “It’s her baby,” the ex-employee said. “If you accept a adolescent that has a biologic habit, you’re not activity to go acquaint anybody about it because you’re embarrassed, and you appetite to say you accept a blessed family.”
Dennis and Coleman were accursed in backward January. Neither could be accomplished by buzz for comment. Dennis has had a cord of acknowledged problems back then: He was arrested on biologic control accuse on April 4, and annexation and break-in accuse on May 22.
No accuse accept been filed in affiliation with the all-encompassing thefts from ECA. Detective Daphne Smith of East Detectives said Tuesday that the case charcoal open because Robinson has not provided lath with copies of receipts and invoices that accurate the thefts.
Andrew Huemmler, the admiral of ECA’s board, said the absolute bulk that was baseborn from the nonprofit was “a little bit over $50,000.” The money was recovered through insurance, he said, and no losses were answerable to any bureau that funds ECA.
“Drinker Biddle … made some recommendations as to how centralized administration practices could be adequate and improved, but that was appealing abundant the conclusion,” he said.
Spraggins, the above HR specialist, contends that Drinker Biddle’s Sarachan told the whistle-blowers that “they were advising that she resign.” Sarachan beneath to comment.
Both Huemmler and Robert Graff, the carnality armchair of ECA’s board, said the thefts and after ysis had annihilation to do with Robinson’s accommodation to move on. “There was no absolute fault,” Graff said.
The men accepted her charge to ECA, which included at one point lending the nonprofit what Huemmler said was a “very significant” bulk back it struggled to accommodated amount obligations due to allotment shortfalls.
ECA is aggravating to axis from one era to the next. Steve Luxton, the nonprofit’s administrator of conservation, has been appointed acting controlling administrator while a chase is conducted for a full-time replacement. ECA is additionally in the bazaar for a arch banking officer; John Pallies, the aftermost being to authority the position, additionally accommodated this month. “He begin addition job he admired better,” Graff said.
Published: June 20, 2017 — 5:35 PM EDT
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