FBI Gets Involved in Claims
Anonymous Letter Accuses Group Home of Misdeeds Involving Finances, Clients, Employment

By Nick Birdsong
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 22, 2006

Racine - Racine County District Attorney Michael Nieskes met Tuesday and Wednesday with representatives from the FBI after asking the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate anonymous allegations lodged against Good Samaritan Hope House.

"(FBI officials) are doing a preliminary investigation and review," Nieskes said Thursday. "I'm going to give them a few days to do some work, and if they have something, they'll talk to me."

The FBI is the only agency looking into the matter, and no date has been set for when results of the investigation will be revealed, Nieskes said.

"They're very competent people. If they need other agencies, they'll get back to me," Nieskes said.

Last week, Racine County Executive William McReynolds decided to make public the allegations in light of further accusations that he had ordered the county Human Services Department to ignore the letter in which the allegations were made.

McReynolds' purported purpose, according to the letter: to secure African-American votes in his bid for state Senate election this fall.

Hope House is a state-licensed group home for juvenile delinquents and is associated with St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, which is led by Bishop Lawrence Kirby. It receives between $300,000 and $425,000 a year in state and federal dollars, and serves primarily African-American youths.

The anonymous letter, received by the county Human Services Department on May 25, alleges: thousands of dollars are unaccounted for; ghost workers are on the payroll; the facility is used to launder money; drug dealers are allowed to purchase employment; state and federal regulations for handling money and treating clients are violated; there is sexual exploitation and physical abuse of clients placed in group homes by administrative staff; and there are staff-to-staff and staff-to-client sexual relationships.

The letter also contends that McReynolds ordered management-level staff in the offices of Juvenile Administration and Project Compliance not to enforce any county sanctions against Hope House while allowing another group home to be shut down.

McReynolds said the anonymous letter was nothing more than an attempt to sabotage his campaign for the 21st District seat in the state Senate.

"I know politics is a rough and tumble business," McReynolds, a Republican, said at a news conference last week. "But when politicians lie about good people who are not engaged in the political process - and when they don't have the courage even to tell us who's making up those lies - things have gone too far."

Nieskes, at McReynolds' news conference, said: "A lot of anonymous letters end up in the circular file. But because of the nature of this letter, it won't be."

NAACP reaction

But Craig Oliver, a spokesman for the state and local NAACP who also is the program director for Good Samaritan, the parent company of Hope House, said there are suspicions surrounding the motives behind the allegations.

"The NAACP has a different look on this whole matter," Oliver said at a news conference last week. "Is it coincidental that this investigation is being launched on what is considered by many to be the actual start of the election cycle? Is Bishop Kirby a public supporter of the county executive in his present Senate run? If so, what effect will this investigation have on the county executive's desire to have the minority vote?"

Oliver said the group home welcomes any investigation by any agency, and that none of the allegations made in the letter, other than minor issues concerning financial practices that he said were being handled, are true to the best of his knowledge.

Hope House has gone through two audits in its 18 months of existence.

The NAACP also questioned whether the investigation was an act by the county executive to provide Kirby with assistance in what they call "internal struggles" within his church.

Kirby made his congregation aware of the letter earlier, McReynolds said.

"I think the investigation will bring out whatever concerns they have," McReynolds said. "The way the events happened dictated when we were going to come forward with these allegations and accusations."

McReynolds said the district attorney wasn't aware of the letter until July 14. When news of the letter began circulating throughout the community, county officials knew something had to be done.

"We could no longer take this as a false allegation," McReynolds said. "We needed to protect the kids of our county."


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