Drama! Baker Administration does the unthinkable – Accused of Steering Grants From Prince George’s County to reward friends in mounting Unethical Endeavour

NBC4

County Executive Rushern Baker III is surrounded by his two daughters Qunci (left) and Aja (right).

Saturday August 4th, 2018 – ‪They no longer hide their shenanigans. Prince George’s County Rushern Baker III regime believes the law of the land does not apply to him and his administration. This comes after the regime was busted once again laundering money to their friends through nonprofits. On July 23, we reported how the Baker regime was caught red handed in wage theft schemes. It’s unfortunate for someone who thought he could be a governor.

Now, according to NBC 4 news, more than a dozen nonprofits that received grants this year from the office of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III had not filed required paperwork with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation as of this week, prompting closer scrutiny of how the Baker administration oversees those funds as part of money laundering schemes.

Twenty-one organizations that received taxpayer dollars through the county’s $1.4 million Community Partnership Grant program were not in good standing with the state taxation office as recently as last week, records show.

Money laundering is the act of concealing the transformation of profits from illegal activities and corruption into ostensibly “legitimate” assets. The dilemma of illicit activities is accounting for the origin of the proceeds of such activities without raising the suspicion of law enforcement agencies. Accordingly, considerable time and effort is put into devising strategies which enable the safe use of those proceeds without raising unwanted suspicion. Implementing such strategies is generally called money laundering. After money has been suitably laundered or “cleaned”, it can be used in the mainstream economy for accumulation of wealth, such as acquisitions of properties, or otherwise spent. Law enforcement agencies of many jurisdictions have set up sophisticated systems in an effort to detect suspicious transactions or activities, and many have set up international cooperative arrangements to assist each other in these endeavors.

Organizations that are “not in good standing” with the state taxation office for about 18 months must go through a forfeiture process, meaning they are not legally allowed to operate in the state of Maryland, said office spokeswoman Fallon Patton.

Sandra Pruitt, executive director of the People for Change Coalition, a membership organization that helps nonprofits build networks and gain resources, said the situation in Prince George’s was “just one example” of the need to have an entity separate from county government administer the county grants.

According to Washington Post, last year, Training Grounds Inc., an organization whose status as a 501(c)(3) was revoked by the IRS in 2016 and reinstated one year later, received $20,000 through the Community Partnership Grant, according to the IRS database. The year before, the organization — which says it assists youths with leadership and career development — was awarded $25,000.

“We need to take the politics out of the process . . . we need a fair and equitable process, so that good organizations are getting local dollars,” said Pruitt, whose organization received funds from the county in 2016 and 2017 but was denied funding this year.

Thomas Himler, Baker’s budget chief, said nonprofits are carefully vetted by county staff and all the winners were in good standing during the application process, which he said stretches from fall into early spring.

Himler said the staff did not check the tax-office status of nonprofits after April 15, which is when their annual paperwork is due.

Baker’s office publicly announced the 120 grant winners July 19, and applicants were notified several weeks earlier.

County Executive Rushern Baker said in the July press release that he was “proud to announce this year’s recipients,” who provide “community-based programs and valuable services.” Himler described the application process as “very competitive,” with hundreds of organizations vying for funds. However, that is not the case according to the people familiar with the situation.   That Community Partnership Grant Program was nothing but a sham.  Baker ought to be ashamed and embarrassed of how the office of Budget and Management handled the grant process and subsequent awards.

He said county staff members are “looking at the process” and considering whether applicants’ status should be checked again following April 15 and before the grants are announced.

Patton, the tax office spokeswoman, said that of the nearly 400,000 entities registered in Maryland, tens of thousands become “not in good standing” every year for failing to file their annual reports.

Many are then restored to good standing after submitting their paperwork.

Himler said organizations that are denied funding can come to the county to learn what they can do differently in the next application cycle.

But Pruitt said the county should more clearly articulate its priorities and create a point system to ensure that organizations can see where they fall short.

She also raised concerns about the number of nonprofits based outside the county — including large groups like United Way of the National Capital Area and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington — that were awarded funds through the grant program, which she said should be used to focus on smaller, local nonprofits.

John Erzen, a spokesman for State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, who is the Democratic nominee for county executive, said Alsobrooks is “aware of the concerns and issues around the grant process, and we are going to take a look at it to see what we can do to address the concerns.”

“We want to make sure everyone is being treated fairly,” Erzen said.

Below is the news release from Sandra Pruitt who blew the whistle of the scheme.

Few have courage to question government schemes and expose officials. Sandra Pruitt is one of them whose courage is truly inspirational.

She writes:

Despite numerous attempts for a more transparent and fair system when it comes to awarding grants in Prince George’s County, the County Executive Office has failed the tax payers. Groups are getting funded who are not in compliance with the state and/or IRS, tax dollars are being used to fund entities outside of the County, very little is earmarked for technical assistance to help nonprofits build capacity and form partnerships, and, we are not leveraging our grant dollars to go after more federal and state funding opportunities.

In the last round of FY 2018 Community Partnership Grants under the County Executive’s office, 21 of the organizations awarded, are not in good standing with the State of Maryland. And in FY 2017 an organization was awarded $20,000 and another $20,000 in FY 2016, despite their 501(c)(3) status being revoked by the IRS. The County Executive’s Office also gave money to organizations headquartered outside of Prince George’s County, when we have groups in the county capable of doing similar work. For example in FY 2018 we gave $304,500 to 25 groups, and in FY 2017, $312,000 to 13 groups in DC, Baltimore, Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Rockville, Takoma Park, and Alexandria for a total of $616,500 in the past two years.

We are bringing attention to this matter because we do not want to see a repeat of this behavior in the new administration. We can not continue to give money to groups who are “politically connected” and not held by fair standards.

Another example of poor oversight is the Prince George’s County Local Development Council Grant which was put in place to provide grants to the community impacted by MGM. The County Executive Office’s has a liaison to this Council but Nathaniel Tutt must be asleep at the wheel. In May 2018 the Local Development Council asked candidates who made it to the 2nd round to provide a presentation before the Council. Below are a number of concerns we observed with the process:

  1. None of the Council members were taking notes.
  2. There was not a point system in place to evaluate presentations.
  3. Many of the participants lacked the capacity and technical skills to provide presentations, and content delivery was poor.
  4. During the presentations, some of the Council members fell asleep.

The result was that one organization, not in good standing with the state of Maryland, was awarded $35,000 despite this being one of the requirements for submission of the grant. And, it appears a number of recipients were beneficiaries of grant funds despite delivering weak presentations and not being able to articulate outcomes, an  implementation plan, or strategy.

In closing, we are disappointed in the administration of grants under Rushern Baker’s leadership and, thus are calling for the following changes to improve the process:

  1.  matching of priorities and needs before we award grant funds
  2.  an audit of all entities who received a grant of $25,000 or more in the past 3 years to report on what they have done with the money before they are awarded any more funding
  3. the forming of a grants office whose personnel has the expertise to write, administer, and oversee outcomes of grant funds
  4. the removal of politics out of the process — we can not have elected officials, their colleagues and friends, greek brothers and sisters, and/or relatives in the back room steering grants.
  5. stop allowing county grants to be the only source of funding for small groups, but instead, help them to build capacity, diversify their revenue, and go after other grant opportunities.

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