FORT LAUDERDALE – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has suspended funding to New Visions Community Development Corp. pending an audit of the embattled, non-profit agency’s finances.
The move follows South Florida Times reports revealing that the agency’s executive director and a board member used the agency’s programs to build their own homes at a discount usually reserved for the agency’s low- to moderate-income clients.
Also, a complaint filed by a former New Visions employee alleges that agency documents may have been falsified, and questions how federal foreclosure funds were utilized.
“At this point, they have suspended funding, and their relationship with us, until all of the current issues are resolved,’’ said New Visions CDC founder and CEO the Rev. Clarence “C. E.” Glover.
Glover is also pastor of Mount Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, which is affiliated with New Visions.
“Once we get all the findings we will take whatever steps we need to address them,’’ Glover said.
HUD has suspended funding to New Visions through a subsidiary contractor, Mission of Peace National Corp. of Flint, Michigan. Mission of Peace is a faith-based, non-profit organization that administers foreclosure and homeownership counseling under contract with HUD to a number of partner organizations nationwide.
Neither representatives from HUD nor Mission of Peace responded to requests for comment.
Glover said he was not sure of the total amount of funds New Visions has received from HUD through Mission of Peace, or the amount that’s at stake, but he said concerns would be addressed.
“They received copies of the [South Florida Times] articles, as well as a complaint and wanted to make sure we were not doing anything unethical, illegal or immoral,” Glover said.
“They [HUD] are coming to conduct an audit and right now the contract with Mission of Peace, and the funding, is suspended until after they are completed,” Glover said.
After receiving notice of the suspended funding and the allegations made in a complaint to Mission of Peace by a former New Visions employee last week, New Visions board members suspended New Visions Executive Director Jacqueline Tufts without pay on Wednesday, Jan. 14 from her $70,000-a-year job.
Tufts was allowed to collect her personal belongings before she was escorted from her office at 950 NW 11th Ave. in Fort Lauderdale, that same day.
The complaint filed with Mission of Peace reportedly contains allegations that documents about foreclosure counseling submitted to the organization may have been falsified, and also questions agency checks Tufts may have written to herself and – allegedly – to board member Eugene Simmons, with whom she reportedly has a personal relationship.
Tufts could not be reached for comment, and even though she and Simmons reportedly have denied it in the past, Glover said Simmons has now acknowledged their relationship.
New Visions board members are scheduled to meet on Wednesday, Jan. 21, when they will vote to remove Simmons from the board if he does not resign over the apparent conflict of interest.
Simmons has not returned calls or responded to emails seeking comment on the controversy.
“I have not spoken to him, but it’s my understanding that he understands the board intends to either ask him to resign, or they will vote to remove him,” Glover explained. “It’s only my opinion, but I would think he will resign as opposed to coming to the meeting where they will vote to remove him.”
Glover said he has not been fully apprised about the issue regarding checks that Tufts may have improperly signed, and therefore could not comment, but he said it will be one of the
topics discussed at Wednesday’s meeting.
The controversy first came to light after the newspaper published a series of reports about Tufts’ house in December, but the problems date back to at least 2005, when New Visions board members learned that Tufts was in the process of building herself a home using discounts provided by the agency.
After several meetings, board members approved the home’s construction, with stipulations that she had to pay the market-value price for it, and that she would pay the costs to manage the project out of her own pocket.
As executive director, Tufts formulates and sets the final prices for all homes constructed or purchased through New Visions. The South Florida Times began investigating the matter after Shawanda Small, a 40-year-old single mother of two who utilized New Visions to purchase her home at a cost of $232,000, questioned the $16,000 discount Tufts set for her own home, even though the homes are the same, at least on paper.
The homes are next door to each other in the Sweeting Estates neighborhood south of Sistrunk Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. Both homes were built by HBR Developers, a construction company under contract with New Visions, for a cost of $170,000 each.
An additional den, a covered patio and structural changes were added to the first floor of Tufts’ home. Also, an enlarged master bedroom and bath, as well as a reconfigured floor plan and roof changes were completed on the second level during construction, all at a discount usually reserved for agency clients who needed help in purchasing their homes.
“I want everyone to know and understand that we take these allegations seriously,’’ Glover said, “and we fully intend to take whatever steps are necessary to get everything out in the open once we have all the facts, because New Visions is a good organization that has helped many people.’’
Photo: Rev. Clarence "C.E." Glover