As charities struggle for funds, Missouri nonprofit leader indicted for fraud

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(The Center Square) – A month after federal research found disparities in funding for nonprofits serving people of color, a St. Charles charity leader was indicted and accused of stealing millions intended to feed low-income children in a racially diverse area.

Connie Bobo, the executive director of New Heights Community Resource Center, was indicted on three felony counts of wire fraud, three counts of aggravated identity theft and two counts of obstruction of an official proceeding, according to information provided last week by the U.S. attorney of the Eastern District of Missouri.

Bobo and New Heights, with headquarters in Bridgeton in north St. Louis County, according to its Facebook page, had its tax-exempt status revoked by the IRS for failure to file a return for three consecutive years, according to information compiled by GuideStar. New Heights’ last IRS filing was in 2019 and stated revenue of $260,748 and expenses of $216,750, including Bobo’s salary of $60,000 for 20 hours of work per week.

The indictment states Bobo and New Heights fraudulently claimed to have served at least three million meals to children between February 2019 and March 2022, but the meals weren’t purchased or supplied. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services paid Bobo approximately $11 million based on the false claims.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’s paper, “Resilience of Nonprofit Organizations during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Racial Equality Perspective,” published in September, provided insights into “how the pandemic affected nonprofits serving or led by people of color compared with other nonprofits.”

The research found this group of nonprofits was less likely to see an increase in government funds compared with all other nonprofits. It also found the group was more likely to experience significant disruptions compared to other nonprofits, but they showed resiliency and met challenges arising from the pandemic.

“Racial disparities in philanthropy are not new,” the paper stated. “Organizations led by people of color might face greater challenges because of a lack of interpersonal relationships with executives in philanthropic organizations and a general lack of trust for having the capacity to implement programs.”

Approximately 21% of Bridgeton’s population is Black or African American, 9% are Hispanic or Latino, and 9.3% live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Bobo spent $4.3 million to purchase a home worth $1 million for herself, other homes for relatives, and $2.2 million in a commercial real estate investment, according to the indictment. She gave approximately $1.4 million “to her romantic partner,” according to the indictment, who spent $211,907 on a 2017 Mercedes-Benz G550 Wagon.

The indictment also states Bobo forged an invoice from a food vendor to falsely claim a purchase of hundreds of gallons of milk.

“This indictment shows that we will aggressively pursue those who defraud a program intended to feed needy children, and those who exploited loopholes created by a global pandemic,” U.S. Attorney Sayler A. Fleming said in a statement. “We will seize the houses and luxury vehicles that they buy with those funds and we will seek punishment that is appropriate for the scale of the crime, which by law includes repayment of the funds.”

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