Wednesday, October 5, 2022

South Bend grant winner says he spent money on kids' shoes. School has no record of it. – South Bend Tribune

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SOUTH BEND — A man’s apparently conflicting accounts of how he paid for shoes for some Navarre Intermediate Center basketball players is raising new questions about the city’s oversight of a violence prevention grant program.
For a Dec. 12 Tribune story on the South Bend Alive program, Taraious Ford said he used some of his $5,000 grant to fund a Midnight Mentoring basketball league on Friday nights and to buy shoes for five Navarre basketball players because they didn’t have any.
But an official with the South Bend Empowerment Zone, which operates the school, said Tuesday that Ford’s claim surprised the organization.
“This caught our attention, because it was not something that we have any record of at Navarre or the Empowerment Zone,” Rob Daigneau, executive director of finance and operations for the SBEZ, said in an email.
More:South Bend didn’t run background checks on grant recipients. Some had felony convictions.
Ford was one of seven grant recipients, out of 50 that received a combined $350,000, that had felony convictions in the past. Most recipients received a few thousand dollars.
In 2015, Ford, then age 41, pleaded guilty in Ohio to “engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity” for stealing thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from three Walmart stores with another man.
In the email, Daigneau initially requested that a correction be published.
But The Tribune then relayed to Daigneau what Ford told a reporter for the story:
“When we got the Alive grant? Oh, see then I could change them then because … I bought Navarre’s basketball team, that year, with the Alive grant money, I bought their team shoes,” he said. “Five players didn’t have shoes. So I took some money out of the Alive grant and bought them some tennis shoes.”
Daigneau declined to be interviewed. But in a written statement, he said he learned that during the 2019-2020 basketball season, Navarre’s coach sought donations from the community for players who were in need of shoes.
“In response to that request, Mr. Ford provided three pairs of shoes for those athletes,” Daigneau said.
But the city did not release the grant money until March of this year, meaning Ford could not have paid for the shoes with the grant.
When reached Wednesday, Ford declined to be interviewed unless he could receive questions in advance, a practice that The Tribune typically does not engage in.
Caleb Bauer, spokesman for Mayor James Mueller, said neither Mueller nor Maurice “Moe” Scott, who as Mueller’s director of community initiatives selected the grantees with consultation from a committee, were available to be interviewed Wednesday.
“We’ll need to follow up with the Empowerment Zone and follow up with the grantee on that,” Bauer said. “I’m not personally familiar with all of the grantees’ activities during the grant period so that’s something the team will have to take a look at and determine what that was utilized for and if it was appropriately utilized.”
Bauer said the program requires grantees to submit reports on how they had spent the money by Monday (Dec. 20), but Ford had not yet submitted his report. He said the reports are supposed to include a line-item budget of how money was spent, and that some grantees had already filed reports that included documentation such as receipts but that documentation was not required.
In early November, the city administration said it would announce on Wednesday (Dec. 15) the winners of a second round of grants, again totaling $350,000, for next year. But Bauer Wednesday said the committee needed “a few more days to review applications and the city will announce the awardees as soon as that is complete.”
Bauer said the delay was not related to The Tribune story Sunday.
“No, the committee just needed more time,” Bauer said.
In the interview for the Dec. 12 story, Ford said he had not applied for the next round of grants because he didn’t know about it.

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