0

Report: Incompetence from city and church officials led to Grovetown failure

Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards walks into the grand jury meeting room Wednesday. The grand jury decided against handing down criminal indictments in a probe of the city’s Cutliff Grove housing deal.

Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards walks into the grand jury meeting room Wednesday. The grand jury decided against handing down criminal indictments in a probe of the city’s Cutliff Grove housing deal.

ALBANY — A Dougherty County grand jury has reviewed the report on the failed Cutliff Grove housing project that was compiled by the District Attorney’s office and found no basis for criminal charges, but did find conflicts of interest and incompetence on the parts of both the city and the church’s family resource center.

The report notes there were several instances of conflict of interest both with city and the church, and that a lack of competence of city and church officials led to the city having to reimburse HUD about $374,000 when the low-cost housing project failed.

Cutliff Grove Family Resource Center, a non-profit organization formed to help create low- to moderate-income housing on behalf of Cutliff Grove Baptist Church, began efforts in 2005 to build a housing project off West Broad Avenue called Grovetown.

The project would ultimately falter because of economic factors and what investigators would later say was a chronic lack of experience in developing low- to moderate-income housing.

“They (Cutliff Grove’s Family Resource Center) also lacked experience and expertise in document control, proper budget creation and control, proper record keeping with employees and staff, no experience in indicators of fraud and abuse, and have no knowledge of conflict of interest indicators or ways of correcting them,” the report stated.

In faltering, CGFRC managed to spend more than $374,000 of federal HUD dollars that were later reimbursed to the federal agency by the city of Albany.

The report addresses the city’s involvement by saying that its finance department failed to recognize proper document control, failed to recognize indicators of fraud and abuse and failed to question the payments without approval in writing.

“My investigators and I thoroughly reviewed all of the documents and reviewed those involved and everything we have is being made available to the public,” District Attorney Greg Edwards said. “This is a public incident. It was involving public money, so I have no reservations in making sure the public understands how this happened. In effect, why we do have a finding (from the grand jury) that there was no crime, there are things that may be considered in terms of civil litigation, but that’s something the City Commission will have to review at some later time.

“As we note in the investigation, there are a few instances that smack of ethical issues, but these issues did not rise to a level of there being a criminal basis for a charge. It was a failure on the part of city officials and a failure on the part of Cutliff Grove personnel to be able to do what they were trying to do. ... It was business. It was a bad business deal.”

City Manager James Taylor hadn’t had an opportunity to read the report before The Albany Herald provided a copy for him to review. After reading the synopsis of the report found in the opening pages of the 92-page document, Taylor said he believes there is room for improvement, but also said that many new layers of scrutiny in both the DCED (Department of Community and Economic Department) and the city’s finance department have been implemented since the Grovetown project.

“I haven’t read the report yet, but I’m sure there is useful information in it; information that we can use to better our operations,” Taylor said. “Obviously some things could’ve been done better. I feel we have to do a better job selecting who we give these projects to and do a better job in assisting them in doing it ... it’s unfortunate that we have to learn the hard way, but I look forward to having an opportunity to review it.”

The report shows that investigator John Johnson interviewed or obtained records from at least 17 different people, entities or agencies, including Cutliff Grove Missionary Baptist Church Pastor McKinley Drake, Albany Department of Community and Economic Development Director Latoya Cutts, City Attorney Nathan Davis, City Finance Director Kris Newton, Architect John I. Rivers and others.

The report shows that Drake provided various church and CGFRC Board documents, but was the only person interviewed who invoked his 5th Amendment right when interviewed by investigators.

The report notes that Drake was never implicated in any wrongdoing. He served on both the board of directors for the church and its non-profit. The report points to a letter from former city DCED Director Richard Wooten that says Drake’s role on both boards allowed for the possibility of “undue influence” between the church and its development arm.

Juanita Nixon, director of the CGFRC, provided both documents and a statement to investigators and provided information about the Grovetown project and specifics on how reimbursements were paid.

“The city of Albany approved all of their requests for reimbursements and there were few questions asked,” the report states.

One of the “conflicts-of-interest” noted in the report involved the city’s project manager, Johnny Hamilton.

In the report, Hamilton, who worked for the city’s DCED and was involved in dealings with CGFRC, stated that he was hired as a consultant by Cutliff Grove roughly 18 months after he was no longer employed by the city and that he didn’t believe that to be a conflict of interest.

Rivers told investigators that he was involved in at least four different aspects of the Grovetown project.

Initially, he said, he charged $9,000-$10,000 in consultation fees as a part of a company called Development Consult Services to assist CGFRC in preparing materials to present to the city of Albany to become a Charity Housing Development Organization.

He said he then provided architectural services through his firm, John I. Rivers and Associates, in which he charged a fee equivalent to 5 percent of the total cost of the project.

Next, he took responsibilities of construction management under the mantle of JIRA Properties Inc., where he again charged a fee equivalent to 5 percent of the total project cost.

Finally, he was also hired to incorporate the design and development of the project into the city of Albany’s master plan by CGFRC at the start of the project in 2005.

At the end of the report, the investigator said he believed that Rivers should not have been allowed to perform four different functions for the group.

“Mr. Rivers probably never should’ve been allowed to perform four functions during this project. He was the architect, construction manager, master planner for development area and development consultant for Cutliff Grove, which allowed him to have too much influence into the amount of funds being budgeted, requested and spent on the project,” Johnson wrote.

Rivers told investigators that about 35 percent of the way into the project, the scope of the project changed from 32 townhouses to 16 rental apartments and the $40,000 that was initially spent on the development of the townhouses had to be spent again on the apartment design.

When it came time to bid the project out, Rivers told investigators, the group got three construction bids, the lowest of which was between $1.7 million to $1.8 million, meaning that the group would have to find an additional $1 million in private funding.

They first sought the Federal Home Loan Bank, which turned them down because “the persons involved were not experienced enough to handle this project,” Rivers told investigators.

Comments

LuLu 2 years, 11 months ago

They have four properties listed in the tax records. Put a lien on everyone of them. Chain the doors. Condemn them. Cut their electricity. Surely there's something that can be done.

1

whattheheck 2 years, 11 months ago

The Grovetown project was in the name of the community development part of Cutliff which has two pieces of property including the failed Grovetown property site. It also has a low rent project called Nativity it took over from the city a few years ago when the church that built it defaulted on the loan and the city had to take it back and operate for a a time until it was passed to Cutliff. At the time of the transfer to Cutliff in Feb 2008, the loan on the property was $2.417 million--now taxed at $1.6 million value.

1

TheBoss 2 years, 11 months ago

Wonder if DA Edwards will have to recuse himself again??

1

Cartman 2 years, 11 months ago

Follow the money. It went somewhere. I'll anxiously await the DA's report. Liens on property are just a starting point. Arrests are what's in order if any of the money was not spent on legitimate items.

0

Amazed2 2 years, 11 months ago

A substaintial amount of money was passed to John I. Rivers. That name is also associated with the Heritage House and I believe the other was Gateway or Gatewood. To date that development (Gatewood/Gateway) remains uncompleted and sitting dead. John White (recent candidate for mayor) and John I. Rivers were both associated with that project. It is my understanding that John I. Rivers was a friend of Mayor Willie Adams also. As far as the Cutliff Grove project John I. Rivers sent invoices to Cutliff Grove Housing for a lot of things that he was supposedly procuring for the project. Cutliff Grove then issued checks from the $375,000 HUD grant funds directly back to John I Rivers who was supposedly going to pay the people doing work related to developing the project but procured via him and or his firm from Columbus. Some of the companies that did work for the Cutliff Grove project did not and have not been paid. Besides the missing $375,000 there are people and companies that did not recieve the money that was intended to go to them for services. Some how after going thru to John I Rivers it never made it to them. This is one of those Follow the Money cases that I hope the District Attorney does just that. To date the only construction activity on the Cutliff Grove Hud site is one custom made sign. My guess is the sign cost maybe $1000 to $1500 to fabricate. That is what the City Tax Payers got for $375,000.

1

whattheheck 2 years, 11 months ago

No liens are filed against Cutliff on Grovetown.

0

LuLu 2 years, 11 months ago

Well, there's that word again -- INCOMPETENCE.

Just in case anyone's forgotten -- and I don't want any of us to ever forget this -- "What we found was an acceptance of wrong-doing, a pattern of incompetence and a lack of will to correct it". Agony, Georgia, the Good Life City.

0

whattheheck 2 years, 11 months ago

I don't know about you, but I am getting tired of "incompetence". Perhaps we should try to hire some folks that have actual qualifications for a change!

0

whattheheck 2 years, 11 months ago

Part of the City response on the Grovetown Report will be that we have new leadership in DCED, the City dept which created the Grovetown mess. But I think the person now in charge was in the position when University went belly up so you make the call. DCED is a ticking timebomb for the citizens of Albany. It is an organization that is, for all practical purposes, receiving little attention from the Commission or anyone else for that matter. If there is potential for fraud, waste, and abuse, it is in DCED--and it spends a lot of money every year!

1

Outtahere 2 years, 11 months ago

That is exactly what I've been saying!!!!!! Ticking time bomb for sure!!!!!! I use to work there in the housing division and I saw a lot of things that made me sick to my stomache!!!!! Soooo glad I don't work there anymore!!!!!!!

0

whattheheck 2 years, 11 months ago

It appears quite difficult to get folks--or perhaps I should say the "right folks"-- concerned with what DCED does. No one has gone into the area and taken the puzzle apart piece by piece. It is complex and complicated and will take a special effort to unravel the mess--and it is one. I share your concerns.

0

Outtahere 2 years, 11 months ago

Yes, you are so right!!!! It is a huge mess and quite similar to the many other that Albany faces. Why?? Because those at the top are only concerned with covering their behinds and paychecks!!! I bet if you ask Mrs. Cutts questions about some of the programs that they provide there, she wouldn't be able to tell you! (For those of you that don't know - she's the director!!) What a joke; but also a shame that they are wasting so much money! Hopefully I will be able to tell more as time goes on!

0

chinaberry25 2 years, 11 months ago

The city of Albany needs to stop handing out taxpayers money immediately. They have enough low income homes who pay no money whatsoever. They need to cultivate tax base houses. If it means low interest rate, then do so. Eventually you will glean more money than you ever will on a freebie or one in this case. As far as Willie Adams and his friend, this stinks. It was at best a conflict of interest and should have been passed over. There are a lot of marginal folks who would gladly pay for a home if they could be helped a little. That is the direction Albany should be going. Free housing mean crime, drugs and more money for welfare and food stamps. Let some of those folks go to Iowa and let them support them for a while.

1

waltspecht 2 years, 11 months ago

What do you have against IOWA?

0

TheBoss 2 years, 11 months ago

Lets start a list of "Incompenteni" people in Albany. Just one at a time please so everyone will have a say. Mayor Willie Adams

1

Shinedownfan 2 years, 11 months ago

James Bush, cant forget him, he tells Murfree what to do and say.

0

whattheheck 2 years, 11 months ago

A Pastor invoking the fifth amendment says a lot about what went on in this fiasco. I should also mention that about the time the caca was hitting the fan on this one, the city, in a separate transaction, loaned him $100,000 to buy Aunt Fannie's Restaurant. Don't know how that payback is coming along but we seem to have lost out on two others of the $100,000k variety. We just never learn, do we?

0

waltspecht 2 years, 11 months ago

While I truely believe there are honest, well intentioned folks out there trying to do good, I also believe there are slick, manipulative folks out there taking advantage of them and their short commings. I really wonder about the same folks being involved in all these transactions. Plus someone pleading the fifth really makes one wonder. To plead the fifth, you have got to have some illegal involvement you don't want discovered. I wonder where the investigation failed that it didn't discover the reason for this plea.

0

whattheheck 2 years, 11 months ago

If the money we spend on stuff like this wasn't considered "free money", in this case defined as from sources other than local taxes, I think more care would be exercised. A continuing problem seems to be DCED doing its thing without any real adult supervision from city officials including the city manager and the commission. The head of DCED at the time of Grovetown is gone but the new head is leading us down the same path.

0

whattheheck 2 years, 11 months ago

Passing thought. Why do we wind up paying folks like Rivers to write up input to the City's Master Plan? Not directly, but through Cutliff reimbursement. Since Rivers part in the writing has come to light, was he the one that wrote up part of what became the City's submission of the $16 million Heritage House proposal--he was in on that project too with Greenbrier.and filling some of the same roles. And he was mixed up in the Dalewood Estates project with Greenbrier Holding--a now-vacant project paid for by HUD with no direct City involvement. Is Rivers the only architect that can work on projects managed by blacks and involving Federal money? He is working on the City's multimodal transportation center too so what is he being paid to do?

0

Shinedownfan 2 years, 11 months ago

This is just another occurrence, where "minorities" put tax dollars into their pockets with the result of nothing being accomplished and not a thing is done about it. What else is new?

1

whattheheck 2 years, 11 months ago

It might be mentioned that just because a Grand Jury did not find cause for criminal prosecution does not mean there were not any criminal acts. It has been my experience that the manner in which a case is presented to a GJ certainly influences the outcome. Was the DA's office actually interested in pursuing this case further? If not, the outcome would be exactly what we now see regardless of what the real evidence showed--the old "nothing was brought to our attention" approach. Vigor and interest certainly influence outcome in GJ cases such as this--the GJ members work with what was presented and how it was presented. .

After all, we are talking about a pastor of an established black church whose non-profit housing arm now in question is also the landlord of a major subsidized housing complex it took off the city's hands and who also received a $100,000 city business loan. Throw in the mix an architect with ties to other projects with city involvement, and actions/performance of city employees/officials who had varying degrees of responsibilities in the matter.

If people have doubts on the propriety of the outcome, it is certainly understandable. .

0

gotanyfacts 2 years, 11 months ago

"The report addresses the city’s involvement by saying that its finance department failed to recognize proper document control, failed to recognize indicators of fraud and abuse and failed to question the payments without approval in writing."

A finance department is made up of individuals with individual responsibilities. Hold them accountable! "Failed to recognize" indicates incompetence or negligence if not dishonesty. In any case there are obviously a lot of folks with jobs they do not deserve.

1

Amazed2 2 years, 11 months ago

According to a source at Cutliff Grove about 2 yrs ago, I was told that Mr. Rivers was recommended to them by Officals with the City of Albany. Now I wonder who they were and are?? I have also been told he and Mayor Willie Adams are friends???

0

Amazed2 2 years, 11 months ago

You know MR. Drake the pastor, the man of faith in God, may have just been scared to answer because he felt the probable outcome of the investigation was going to bring criminal charges. HE must have thought so why else would he take the 5th. All he had to do was tell the truth. Guess he was not thinking at the time and did not realize just how Incompetent he and his staff were as well as the ENTIRE STAFF of the DCED.

0

Amazed2 2 years, 11 months ago

You know if the DCED was a private entity everyone would be fired and it shut down as soon as the first Profit and Loss Statement was calculated.

0

Amazed2 2 years, 11 months ago

Seems I remember a new restuarant name Luann's or something and the lady that was opening it sat on one of the boards that oversaw the downtown development. She and the downtown manager had apparently became friends of sort and he/Don Buie granted her $50,000 dollars from the FACADE Grant program to use in building her resturant down Radium Springs road a couple miles from Oglethorpe near Albany State. Obviously outside and not near downtown. I know she worked out a deal to avoid possible charges by agreeing to pay it all back. I think Mr. Taylor our now City Manager was working with her at he time in this matter. Does anyone know the status of this?? Did she pay it back or is she making the $5000 a month payments she said she would?? Maybe she and her attorney decided the Don Buie was Incompetent and should not have given her $50,000 in the first place so why should she pay it back.

0

Cartman 2 years, 11 months ago

IMHO, it was an obvious act of corruption that should have been pursued criminally, but it was not. I believe that she has since paid the money back.

0

whattheheck 2 years, 11 months ago

The facade money was paid back in full. However, I don't know where we stand on the $100,000 she borrowed in July 2009 on a business loan from the City--Lajua's Restaurant. There are a number of liens filed against the business for payroll taxes so who knows what will happen with the loan.

0

jblk96 2 years, 11 months ago

I am away in the military but consider Albany as home. A friend of mine called one day after her cleaning service completed a job at Cutliff grove. She told me the church was closed and it looked as if it was a repo; everything was in place as if the former occupants had left suddenly. I knew the Rapture hadn't taken place, so where were the members. Now I know. The cheaters and stealers are kneeling at someone's elses altar praying for clemency. Just pay the money back.

0

jblk96 2 years, 11 months ago

An all too familiar calling card for a lot of black churches. They let anyone ans everyone serve in any position. Anyone can be the chrior director. In a lot of churches anyone can preach and prophesy or teach. The so-called guidance of God leads certain ones to appoint these inexperienced, unqualified people. I've grown up in black churches all my life, so I know this and see it constantly.

The Bible says that in business, be men or in today's political correct translation, conduct business in a professional manner. This was clearly not handled in a professional manner. If your church folk are not educated enough for a particular topic, hire a consultantt who is.

0

Sister_Ruby 2 years, 11 months ago

YOU are my kind of Brother-Man, Mr. jblk96.

0

Amazed2 2 years, 11 months ago

Kind of seems strange to me that with all the Lien's filed on the Lajua's Restaruant that the owner and former Board Member somehow managed to squeeze out all of those payments back to the City's Facade Grant Program that were illegally dispersed to her by Don Buie. Her repayment plan I believe based on her cash flow projections from the new restaruant was supposed to take up to a year to repay. I think she was only able to keep the doors open for a few months before closing it up. I remember at one point Lajau's had missed a $5000 payment which she blamed on slow business but I remember once the news media reported it she came up with 1/2 of the payment ($2500) by check and later that SAME day a Money Order for another $2500 to make the $5000 monthly payment. Money Orders normally mean CASH involved. At the time I remember the City Manager Lott telling the media the payments were made. At the time the Money Order thing seemed a little strange to me. Kind of like somebody gave her some $$$ help to catch it up. After all we don't want the new media digging any further into who might have known about the $50,000 Facade Grant to her besides Don Buie. I think Buie took the fall for it but word on the street at the time was it was blessed by an elected City Official. Maybe not but sure seems strange that this is Facade Payment was one of the only things that got paid in full considering the current liens filed on the property. Oh well what is $50,000 to come up with when your business along with several hundred thousand dollars of your investment and loans are going down to drain. Most likely a good friend or friends made sure this Facade Money got paid back in Full. That is great for the City but it should not have ever been awarded and dispered to start with. Just another example of Corruption and Incompetence at the highest levels of City Goverment.

0

whattheheck 2 years, 11 months ago

The $50,000 grant was repaid and is a done deal. What may not have been repaid is the $100,000 business loan through the city that no one seems to want to either talk about or write about--we have a security deed on her property to "secure" this, second to Capitol City Bank of course.

And while on the subj, the Rev Mckinley Drake has a $100,000 loan from the city he used to buy Aunt Fannie's Restaurant--same deal as Lajua's.. This is the same guy taking the 5th on the Great Grovetown Scam and Debacle.for $374,000 or so. Haven't heard about this one either, have you? And oh yeah, We lost $100,000 on the Dollar Square near the airport on, drumroll, pls, the same kind of loan.

It is all in the records at the Clerk of Courts Office.

0

Amazed2 2 years, 11 months ago

Well, I am not surprised by the $100,000 to the Dollar Square store that was opened out past the Airport in a remote strip center. YOu would think that the Micro Business Center and DCED staff would or could provide some oversight and approval of business plans and site location, etc. Was this loan also under Ms. Laytoya Cutt's group? I assume so. If I am correct the Dollar Square guy got another $50,000 from Don Buie to relocate the store from the remote location past the airport to Downtown. No let me be sure I got this right the City gave the Dollar Sqaure guy a $100,000 loan to go down past the Airport and our dwntown manager at the time awarded the Dollar Square guy a $50,000 dollar FACADE GRANT to move downtown along with basically no rent or very little. They had a side deal for this too.

0

Sister_Ruby 2 years, 11 months ago

I'd like to recuse MYSELF from paying any further DOCO school taxes and Federal Income Taxes since I KNOW how that money will be wasted, thrown down a toilet, and spindled, folded and mutiliated in ways like THIS!!

0

agirl_25 2 years, 11 months ago

This Grovetown Scam is new to me (I must admit I have not been following much of the new scams lately) but wonder if any of the people involved in any of the messes have any business background at all? Also, how about the Dollar Square Scam...did any of them have any business background or were they just in it with their hands out and a smile on their face? You mention grants and loans...so the $100K lost on the Dollar Square Scam was a loan or a grant? The money Drake got from the city is a loan then and not a grant? No wonder he is taking the 5th.

0

Amazed2 2 years, 11 months ago

Grovetown funds were supposed be treated as a loan and payed back by Cutliff but they supposedly spent the $374,000 in development monies and due to several reasons now deemed due to "Incompetence" the City of Albany TAXPAYERS have had to pay this $374,000 back to the FEDs cause Cutliff used up the money and did not develop anything but a vacant lot with a sign on it. NO this was NOT a Grant. As far as Pastor Drake and the $100,000 for him to personally buy Aunt Fannies that is also a loan. I guess at this point we don't know how he is doing on making payments back to the City. If he defaults then the Albany Taxpayer will be out of another $100,000. Pastor Drake does not like to talk about his money dealing so he takes the 5th. I guess you could say "Only the Lord Knows".

0

agirl_25 2 years, 11 months ago

Appreciate the information concerning the grant/loan buisness re: the Grovetown fiasco. Must be awful living in a city with so many imcompetents. The county isn't perfect, of course, but seems the city suffers more than we do.

0

whattheheck 2 years, 11 months ago

The Dollar Square guy was from Stone Mountain not Albany. Whether he had an adequate business background is not known but his merchandise fit the Albany market.:) As usual, we were second subordinate on the property put up as security for the loan and will not see one dime in return.

0

Amazed2 2 years, 11 months ago

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Albany and Dougherty County Taxpayers there is noting to worry about. The Ciyt Manager of Albany, Mr. James Taylor stated in the paper that he has addressed shortcomings at DCED and the City Financial Dept. that oversay the Cutliff Grove $374,000. All taxpayers can now sleep at night and not worry because the broken system has now been FIXED!!!

0

whattheheck 2 years, 11 months ago

Does fixing shortcomings mean he lined us up some workers who are not incompetent? From what I have read in the report, neither city nor Cutliff personnel were qualified to do what was needed to wind up with houses.

0

Sign in to comment