Louisiana Auditor: Educational Non-Profit Director Misused $300K

A report from the auditor of the Louisiana legislature revealed that a former non-profit organization in Eastern New Orleans misused more than $300,000 of state grants, writes Richard Rainey of NOLA.com.

The report, released by State Auditor Daryl Purpera, accuses the former executive director of Open World Family Services Inc. of mishandling $307,500 in state grants, using the money for everything from paying home owners’ insurance and veterinarian bills to charging her assistant’s college tuition to hiring members of her own family, all big no-nos for non-profit organizations receiving state money.

Kim Cassell, Open World’s former CEO, responded to the charges through her attorneys, the Crear Lawn Firm, in a five-page letter attached to the report for public consumption.

According to Cassell’s representation:

An overall review of the allegations along with Ms. Cassell’s explanations, clearly shows a lack of understanding of non-profit governance rules as opposed to a willful disobedience thereof. Going forward, Ms. Cassell does not intend any future involvement in the financial management of nonprofits. Before she would ever consider doing so, this investigation has taught her that she should spend a substantial amount of time learning the non-profit governance rules through a combination of seminars and/or formal education.”

The biggest grievances Cassell is accused of by the state auditor include:

  • Using numbers from blank checks to gain reimbursement from the state for vendors and employees that there were no records for. This eventually totalled $13,079 for employee benefits and $116,323 for vendors.
  • Charging the company debit card $11,108 to travel to Liberia, Minnesota and San Francisco, and pay a $498 homeowners insurance payment for Open World board president Keisha Keller.
  • Spending $148,596 on items and services not covered by the grant, including, but not limited to: rent, building improvements, airfare, vehicle expenses and insurance policies.
  • Cassell employing both her brother and her daughter and paying them (in total) $18,414 to do cooking, janitorial work and teach children at the nonprofit location. According to Louisiana state law, Cassell, as executive director of a public agency, was forbidden from hiring immediate family members, as it is a practice of nepotism.

The original mission statement of Open World was  to “strengthen the family through education and training. Our goal is empower each individual and family with which we work to reach their fullest potential and become self-sufficient.”

According to website K12, Open World was founded in 2000 and rebuilt in 2006 following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. At that time, the organization was involved in after-school and summer enrichment activities, pre-career training services, GED preparation programs and family wellness activities.

The state auditor’s report recommends Cassell pay back the money in full and be prepared to face criminal charges.  The rebuttal from Cassell’s lawyers state that she has donated one of the organization’s vans to another nonprofit, and will do so with the other vehicles as well as all of the furniture and educational materials from its building.

According to her LinkedIn page, Cassell is currently the Art Director/Managing Editor of Comfort Publishing Inc. in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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