SPRINGFIELD — A Chicago violence prevention program ordered by Gov. Pat Quinn was so hastily organized and sloppily executed that auditors questioned 40 percent of the expenditures claimed by service providers, an audit released Tuesday found.
The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, which was announced by Quinn in October 2010 in the closing weeks of a tight election campaign, spent $55 million in the first two years, which were examined by Auditor General William Holland. The program aimed to reduce violence in two dozen Chicago neighborhoods through jobs for young people, parenting skills, school counseling and help for people getting out of prison.
But the now-defunct Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, which created the project, couldn't produce the criteria it used to choose the communities and failed to include seven neighborhoods that Chicago police consider to be the most crime-ridden, the audit found. And it relied on Chicago aldermen -- not an open bidding process -- to find community organizations to run the programs.
"IVPA failed to conduct its due diligence to document that the decisions related to the selection of lead agencies were free of any conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest or that the agencies selected were the best entities to provide the needed services," Holland said.
State Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, said the audit points to criminality.
"The state of Illinois has fleeced the taxpayers. What we have found today is criminal activity," Kay said. "When critical-care services remain on the chopping block and transportation funding for schools have been cut, the governor was able to increase limited state resources for the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative from $20 million to $50 million in less than two months."
Kay was a co-sponsor of a House resolution calling for the audit. Kay said he and other House Republicans are asking the auditor general to refer the findings to federal prosecutors "for further investigation of potential criminal activity."
According to the audit, there's also no documentation to show the agency tried to recoup $2 million in unspent money from the program's second year.
Quinn decided on the program in August 2010 after hearing from Chicago ministers. He announced it in October, leading critics to argue it was a program to solidify the city's vote. The haste in organizing the program led to its deficiencies, Holland said.
Lawmakers ordered the audit in 2012.
The Illinois Violence Prevention Authority was folded into the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority in January 2013. Spokeswoman Cristin Monti Evans said Tuesday the revamped Community Violence Prevention Program has had a budget of $17.5 million the past two years with emphasis on traditional summer jobs for participants aged 16 to 24 and "a much more rigorous grant administration process."
"ICJIA is committed, in partnership with the governor, to providing effective work-program and educational opportunities for our youth to help prevent violence in communities across Illinois," Evans said. "We've taken major steps to ensure responsible management of this critical violence prevention program."
The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative contracted with the University of Illinois at Chicago to provide an evaluation, but the school was not required to follow a timeline for completing the work, submit anything or "assess whether NRI had been effective in reducing violence," Holland said.
Also, two organizations hired by the program to carry out its services closed and the Violence Prevention Authority was unable to account for their spending of $673,674. Because of sloppy or missing paperwork, auditors questioned a total of $1.8 million out of $4.4 million, or 40 percent of the money given to community organizations.
Violence Prevention Authority officials told Holland they used a metric devised by the Department of Human Services to determine which neighborhoods to include, but neither agency could produce the metric.
The audit found that agencies' spending plans were approved after work started, the agencies spent money for unapproved purposes and their progress reports were late and inaccurate.