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Sun Sentinel
March 18, 2010

City’s spending audit begins

By ELIZABETH ROBERTS

Auditors from Kessler International, a New York firm specializing in forensic and investigative services, arrived at Deerfield Beach City Hall last week to examine the expenditure of thousands of federal dollars.

Community Development Manager Peter Parkin said the auditors met with acting City Manager Burgess Hanson and Jerry Ferguson, the city's planning and growth management director. Last June, the city reprimanded Debra Chatman, then community development coordinator, for inadequate controls over funding dispersals. Parkin confirmed that the outside agency arrived March 8.

It's been nearly a year since questions about how thousands of federal dollars have gone missing first were raised by blogger Chaz Stevens. Specifically, Stevens began asking how Arlington Park Family had spent $30,000 of federal money appropriated for "community outreach" by the city. Last month, commissioners made a motion to spend as much as $30,000 to have Kessler International come in.

On Dec. 29, City Attorney Andrew Maurodis asked in a letter that Arlington Park Family indicate how the funds were used. On Feb. 15, according to his follow-up letter to Mae Francis Feagin, president of Arlington Park Family, Maurodis still had not received a response.

Feagin said in a phone interview that she used the money for "community outreach — reading and taking people to Social Security, helping them with paperwork and stuff."

Stevens claimed that in 2007, the city agreed to fund Arlington Park for providing services to the elderly. He became concerned, he said, when he learned that the signature did not belong to anyone listed on the account. Nor was there any record of an income tax return filed by what ostensibly is a nonprofit organization.

A review of the Community Development Division by the city attorney and federal housing officials led to scrutiny of the division. Officials then asked for a top-to-bottom audit of the division, similar to what Kessler International did in the city of Fort Pierce — where it found that the community services division was "a corrupt organization" that mishandled state and federal housing funds and that the beneficiaries were employees, friends and relatives.

"I can confirm that Kessler is here," said city spokeswoman Rami Altherr Musto. "They have been unobtrusive … and a little quiet on the exact mechanisms [for the audit]."

According to the city manager's office, the investigation is open-ended.


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