Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012 | 3:05 p.m.
Promising to tighten its system of tracking how it spends money, the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth escaped a Clark County Commission meeting with its entire $214,000 grant intact.
Up to $100,000 of the grant, which had been granted in December, was under threat after reports emerged that questioned how the money was being spent.
But Arash Ghafoori, the Partnership’s executive director, convinced Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Lawrence Weekly, who returned the matter to the commission for reconsideration, that he would implement “new internal systems of controls to make sure every dollar is judiciously spent.”
Ghafoori said the charity is looking to raise money through software that “helps everything be black and white in terms of dollars and cents.”
Nothing will be done, however, “on the fly,” he vowed. “I want everything we do to be recorded and have the trustees weigh in.”
That’s an important distinction given the questions that arose after Ghafoori, named executive director in August, presented his case to trustees in December that spending was not being watched closely enough.
Shortly after that meeting — in which he questioned automated teller withdrawals, reservations for an expensive oceanside rental in San Diego and large transfers of money from one nonprofit to another — he was put on administrative leave by then-CEO Kathleen Vermillion.
But Ghafoori in January put his complaints into a 120-page complaint to the Nevada Attorney General, as well. The AG’s office is now going to audit the organization, he said Tuesday.
Furthermore, the FBI is looking more deeply into the actions of Vermillion, who was also a Henderson City Council member until she resigned late last year.
Sources close to the charity told the Sun on Tuesday that the FBI is going to let the Attorney General’s Office handle the investigation of the Partnership for Homeless Youth, while the FBI looks at the ancillary Homeless Youth Foundation.
Established about two years ago, the Homeless Youth Foundation was supposed to become the fundraising arm of the Partnership. Vermillion became the Foundation’s CEO. Ghafoori pointed out in his documents to the attorney general that hundreds of thousands of dollars were transferred from the Partnership to the Foundation, instead of the other way around.
In her defense, Vermillion has told the Sun nothing was wrong with the transfer, as it was expected to happen for the first few years of the Foundation’s existence, until it was able to raise enough money to operate on its own. Most of the money went to pay for her salary, estimated to be about $125,000 annually.
Sources say the FBI had been looking for months, even before Ghafoori’s complaint, at allegations that Vermillion might have used her political position to solicit money for the Foundation. Vermillion has told the Sun she has done nothing wrong.
Now, it seems, many people and former donors are also starting to put their faith back into the Partnership for Homeless Youth. Ghafoori said the media scrutiny of the charity moved like wildfire for a few weeks. Then, however, Vermillion was fired by her own board; Ghafoori was reinstated by the same board.
Later, a lawsuit filed by Vermillion against her ex-boyfriend and County Commissioner Steve Sisolak was dropped by Vermillion. At the same time, a police investigation continues into Sisolak’s complaint that he was criminally extorted by Vermillion, her attorney Rob Martin and his public relations adviser Mark Fierro. Martin and Fierro asked him in January for $3.9 million in return for dropping Vermillion’s lawsuit. Ghafoori said, “People are starting to understand that the charity was not an active player in any egregious behavior.”
“We’re still providing a valuable service, and various donors have ... made various levels of comments and advocacy directly to us or on our behalf.”
During discussion, Sisolak did not participate and abstained from voting. Giunchigliani and Weekly both clarified they harbored no ill-will toward the Partnership by bringing back the $240,000 grant for reconsideration. They simply, Weekly said, wanted to be sure the dollars were being spent where they were most needed.
“I have a lot of respect for (Vermillion),” Weekly added. “I’m not going to kick a person when they’re down. Her intentions were very good. I’ve seen fine works that happened (with the NPHY).
“This is my open prayer: I really want you guys to … do the right thing, do the right thing and just show everybody. … You do save lives. I hope today you’ll walk away knowing no one’s intention was to ever hurt you.”
At the same time, Giunchigliani added, “Public scrutiny is the best in the long run. … It shows this is not an entitlement. This is a process. … We cannot fix what happened in the past, but we can fix what’s going forward.”