MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee nonprofit that offers extracurricular programs for refugee children and other aid for refugees is under investigation for alleged misuse of federal funding.
From 2012 to 2015, the Pan-African Community Association was granted more than $440,000 in federal funds to assist refugees from Africa and around the world to buy cars, houses and open up businesses in Milwaukee.
The association used a program called Individual Development Accounts which were created to offer matching grants to refugees who saved part of their own money to put toward a purchase.
Investigators from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, said the association gave money to at least 32 people who weren’t eligible to receive funds.
Records obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (http://bit.ly/2deK2zQ) also showed that the organization allegedly violated terms of federal grants by spending more than 35 percent of its annual budget on administrative costs.
Fessahaye Mebrahtu, executive director of the association, said one employee who administered the Individual Development Accounts is to blame for the misspent funding. According to Mebrahtu, the employee did not know about the eligibility rules for the program and signed up too many individuals. The costs for translation and transportation exceeded the association’s budget.
“I was not controlling her activities the way I should have. I was not having proper oversight,” said Mebrahtu. “We blame her for lack of competence, but nobody has embezzled any money in this situation.”
Solomon Tesfai, the association’s treasurer said after working closely with bank officials, the funding appeared to have been given to refugees who signed up for the program and among those refugees who signed up were refugees who did not meet requirements.
“We had very poor oversight,” Tesfai said. “I don’t believe there are ethical or fraudulent issues.”
The former administrator for the Individual Development Accounts could not be reached for comment by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The federal government is requiring the association resolve discrepancies and repay money, though officials haven’t yet determined how much was allegedly misspent.
Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com