Non-profit cleared of financial wrongdoing faces struggle to regain donor confidence

Non-profit cleared of financial wrongdoing faces struggle to regain donor confidence

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A Biloxi non-profit agency has been cleared of any financial wrongdoing, but officials say the year-long investigation has taken its toll. The Secretary of State's Office has concluded Hope Community Development Agency did not misspend any grant money, but did find that is was not keeping adequate records.

Now, the charity is wondering where Hope CDA goes from here.

Since Hurricane Katrina, Hope CDA has had a hand in building 125 new homes in Biloxi and repairing close to 800 homes. The non-profit also does everything from improving parks to running youth programs.

"We've done summer camps. Anything we can do to improve the neighborhood and try to make it a place where people would love to live in," said Director Bill Stallworth.

Not much community work has gone on this past year as Hope CDA officials have had their time and focus consumed with providing thousands of financial documents to the Secretary of State.

They've been defending themselves against allegations that money was being misspent. As a result, the charity has made changes to improve its record keeping system.

"There's always room for improvement. We're a small, non-profit organization. We're not a Fortune 500 company," said Stallworth. "We've instituted a document management system that will copy receipts so we will not lose as many of those as we have."

A document sent by the Secretary of State's Office to WLOX stated, "After a review, the Division concluded that none of the grant money was misspent."

Stallworth said while Hope CDA was cleared of misusing any money, the charity did not come out of the investigation unscathed. Hope CDA spent $50,000 on lawyers and accountants.

"The examination has been, has had a negative effect on our organization. Funders have withheld funding, because they want to be sure that everything was okay. We knew that it was. This proves that it was," Stallworth said. "We have to go back out and reassure them. But in the process, we had to spend virtually every dime we had to keep the doors open."

Still, those at Hope CDA say they haven't lost hope for the future.

"This has been a very negative thing, but in the end, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That's how we look at it. We're now able to start focusing our attention back on producing quality neighborhoods, making our community a better place," said Stallworth.

As a part of an agreement with the Secretary of State, Hope CDA agreed to pay a $500 fine for inadequate record keeping and for failing to report information it was required to report.

Hope CDA officials said the investigation was the result of a complaint filed against the non-profit.

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