A month after a 2011 Mobile Police Department Explorers trip to Washington, D.C. and New York City, internal documents show an MPD major wrote Chief Micheal Williams informing him grant funds had been used to pay for children who did not meet residential requirements and recommending the program be suspended for 60 days or until “any ongoing investigations into misuse of grant funds or city funds are completed.”
This document and others gathered in the wake of Lagniappe’s open records lawsuit against Williams and MPD show the department launched an internal affairs investigation into whether federal grant money was improperly used to bring juveniles and adults not eligible to have their travel paid for by the program along on ski trips and other junkets. Lagniappe has searched through more than 6,000 documents turned over by MPD and the city as a result of the lawsuit and found many records indicating fears of such improper travel may be well founded.
For example, an Aug. 31, 2011 memo from Maj. Kara Rose to Williams laid the issues bare for the chief. Rose wrote that while conducting a grant compliance check, several discrepancies were found that “require immediate attention.” Among those, Rose wrote that more children were being reported enrolled in the program by advisors than were reported to the Boy Scouts.
She also pointed out that the enrollment records from the advisors and the Boy Scouts did “not match the names of children who have traveled with the Explorers on out of town trips, funded by existing grants and funds from the city of Mobile.” Rose also wrote that Explorer Post 3408 was never properly chartered through the Boy Scouts, as required.
“Expenditure of grant funds for activities that do not appear to meet grant program requirements, include using grant funds to pay for activities for children who do not meet the grant residential requirement,” was another area of concern, Rose wrote.
She laid much of the trouble with the program at the feet of Capt. Carla Longmire, who has served as the executive director for the MPD Explorer program. “There appears to be little oversight on her part o the administrative requirements of the posts under her direction,” Rose wrote.
Longmire is currently the Third Precinct commander. Records show her son attended at least two trips while she oversaw the program.
Issues concerning the Explorers trips apparently came to a head following the Washington/New York City trip in July 2011. Documents discovered two weeks ago revealed internal emails between Rose and MPD Grants Administrator Laura Angle discussing their beliefs that the children and spouses of MPD and city employees had improperly had their travel expenses covered on some of these trips. Lagniappe has received several calls from MPD employees claiming such activities, which led the paper to ask, beginning in November of last year, for the travel records for all Explorer trips from 2008-2011.
Williams refused to release most of the records, particularly any containing the names of attendees, ignoring state open records law. MPD only began turning over records once a complaint was filed in Mobile County Circuit Court in May. Even then, Williams claimed under oath the department had turned over all records pertaining to a 2008 trip to Colorado and the 2011 DC/NYC trip. After continued legal pressure MPD and city attorneys ended up finding more than 6,000 more documents, several of which directly related to those trips, seemingly undermining Williams’ affidavit. Multiple copies of a list of attendees for the Colorado trip were located in the boxes even though city attorneys told Judge Rick Stout none of the documents in the boxes were responsive to Lagniappe’s complaint.
Also included in these documents is an interrogation as part of an Internal Affairs investigation — case number IAU2011-0018. Although the name of the person answering the questions is not included, the questions focus on who traveled with the group, who was responsible for the use of an MPD credit card to charge an unauthorized $7,200 dinner tour for the group, and who other than Explorers, chaperones and MPD officers may have accompanied the group.
Lagniappe has requested the final results of this internal audit from MPD, but has been told there will be no cooperation in the matter until the records suit is officially ended.
Another document outlining problems with the DC/NYC trip also questions some discrepancies between the number of people reported to have gone on the trip and receipts turned in after the fact.
“If 45 people went on trip, why (were) only 11 rooms booked at (a) cost of $690.00 charge at Ramada East Orange, NJ for only one night; didn’t check in to Quality Inn Potomac Mills in Woodbridge, VA until 7/20/2011,” it says under a section labeled “Questions/Clarifications Regarding Verbally Approved Budget and Submitted Receipts.” The group booked 20 rooms in Woodbridge, according to the document.
“Meal receipts do not reflect 45 people on trip,” it adds.
Due to the incomplete nature of many of the records, piecing together exactly who attended every trip has been difficult and is ongoing. For example, Donna Mitchell and Barbara Wolfe, both from the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Intiatives, which oversaw the federal Weed & Seed Grant money used for the excursions, were on ski trips in 2010 and 2011, according to receipts from Mainstay Suites in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., despite never appearing on any official lists of attendees supplied by the department.
A Sept. 7, 2011 document entitled “MPD Internal Analysis and Recommendations for MHB Explorers Program,” ripped the program while also questioning the use of federal money to improperly pay for activities by Explorers not related to the Mobile Housing Board.
“Discrepancies within the MPD and Mobile Housing Board Explorers Program first surfaced on August 11, 2011 after being contacted by City Accounting. Accounting rejected the request for payment of credit card bill because the charges incurred on the Explorers DC/NY Trip were in excess of the approved budget submitted by MPD to MHB,” the document reads. “Additionally, a Single Audit is being conducted over the next few weeks on all grants, contracts and agreements held within City Accounting. This will require review of the MHB Explorers contract with the MPD. There are some of the same issues present with lack of oversight and monitoring of this grant as was in the HUD CDBG Grant that was the subject of a federal audit of MHB in 2010.”
That analysis delivers some pretty harsh blows to the MPD Explorer program. Its first finding says the program is, “in complete disarray and warrants immediate action and correction.” It goes on to add, “There seems to be no internal or external controls governing the MPD Explorer Program and its staff that requires a complete overhaul of the program at this time.”
While it appears there was a brief suspension of the Explorers program, newer documents show the trips resumed shortly thereafter and continue. Many of the same individuals continue to head up the program. MPD and city attorneys have said the department will have no contact with Lagniappe until its lawsuit against the department is closed. The paper has moved to end the matter after having the opportunity to go through the records.