CLEVELAND - A Democratic state senator is asking the state Department of Development to investigate allegations of misspending at a non-profit agency that uses state grants to help low income residents with heating bills.
State Sen. Nina Turner (D-25) said she would request the probe after viewing a Channel 3 News investigation into travel and use of an agency credit card for personal purchases at the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland.
"If there's nothing to hide, let's open up the books, examine them," said Turner. "If it's all good -- amen. But if something is wrong, somebody has to answer for that."
CEOGC administers the Home Emergency Assistance Program in Cuyahoga County using grants it receives from the State Department of Development. In 2009, the agency got about $3 million in state funds to help low income households, according to its most recent tax return.
The agency also receives about $35 million in federal grants to educate about 5,000 preschoolers who attend Head Start programs in the county, the tax return shows. In all, about 95 percent of the non-profit's operating budget comes from state and federal grants.
Turner's call for an investigation comes as Channel 3 News found that the non-profit's chief executive has routinely hired friends and family at CEOGC.
CEO Jacqueline Middleton, who was once married to the brother of U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes' wife, gets more than $200,000 in salary and benefits. Two years ago, the board gave her a $7,000 loan -- a big red flag according to experts. The agency declined to say whether the money has been repaid.
Middleton's No. 2 - Senior Vice President Brian Gleisser - is paid $160,000. He also serves as a Shaker Heights councilman.
Middleton also hired long-time friend Arlene Wynn as vice president of information technology. Wynn gets $108,000 even though she has a degree is in French education -- not computers. Wynn's husband, meanwhile, gets about $100,000 to run the human resources department.
Another Middleton friend, Charmaine Wilson, is a project manager making $65,000. And Middleton's relative, Angela Armstrong-Alford, is the facilities manager. All told, the agency spends more than $1 million dollars on top executives and another $2 million for their staff.
The Investigator Tom Meyer found in November that CEOGC has shipped top execs to conferences in Las Vegas, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Chicago since July at great expense. The Las Vegas trip alone -- where 13 employees traveled to learn how to comply with federal regulations -- cost up to $50,000, insiders say.
The station also reviewed records showing that Middleton used an agency credit card while in Las Vegas to pay for $400 worth of clothes at Saks Fifth Avenue, a $175 meal at a fancy restaurant and a $1,000-a-week rental car.
State Rep. Barbara Boyd, who sits on the non-profit's board, said she had no idea Middleton was charging personal items to the agency.
"You should use your own money," Boyd said. "You don't use somebody else's credit card."