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Former Somerville Non-Profit Head Made $28K in Purchases on Agency Credit Card

The Community Action Agency of Somerville is trying to move forward, and protect its federal funding, after a damning financial audit. It has hired an interim executive director to turn things around.

The former director of the non-profit Community Action Agency of Somerville racked up over $28,000 of personal charges on the agency credit card at clothing stores, online retailers, restaurants, supermarkets and elsewhere, according to a financial audit released Friday.

The agency runs Head Start programs for over 350 kids in Somerville and Cambridge and a variety of services for low-income residents. 

The audit, presented to the Community Action Agency of Somerville and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development at a meeting on Friday, shows the former executive director, Kimberly Smith-Cofield, made $28,614.91 of credit card purchases from December of 2010 to June of 2012 at places like Nordstroms, CVS, PetSmart, T.J. Maxx, Target, Texas Roadhouse, Forever 21, Budget Rent A Car and QVC. Smith-Cofield paid back $14,300 of those charges, according to the audit, but $14,314.91 remains on the non-profit's books.

Smith-Cofield resigned from the agency in June, and the agency's finance director and four board members soon followed, according to the Boston Globe.

The turmoil at the agency caused the Department of Housing and Community Development to order the independent audit, which was conducted by Glivinski & Associates, Inc.

With federal funding at risk, agency plans to move forward

In its 2012 fiscal year, which ends Nov. 30, the Community Action Agency of Somerville was slated to receive about $4.6 million in federal funding for the Head Start program, according to the audit.

As a result of the audit, the Department of Housing and Community Development is demanding the Somerville agency either relinquish its ability to receive federal Community Service Block Grants or present a plan for organizational changes that would safeguard state and federal funds in the future, according to a statement from the department.

"We need to be good stewards of taxpayer money," said Matthew Sheaff, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing and Community Development. "We know the people of Somerville need the services," he said.

With 30 days to respond, the Somerville agency is preparing such a plan and has hired a new interim executive director with experience overseeing leadership changes.

In a statement about the audit, the non-profit said, "Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS) is currently working diligently to follow the recommendations of the DHCD"—Department of Housing and Community Development—"as relayed to us on Friday afternoon, following the findings of [the] forensic audit."

The statement makes reference to staffing changes and says, "Today, CAAS is a very different agency than it was during the time examined by the forensic audit. We are continuing to pursue the changes necessary to remain fundable by DCHD and ensure uninterrupted service to our clients."

"Our goal is to develop full transparency at CAAS and to ensure that the agency is an excellent steward of public funds moving forward," the statement says.

New interim executive director

As part of its plan remain eligible for federal Head Start funding and continue providing social services, the agency announced Monday it had hired Lynn Molnar to be its new interim executive director.

Molnar has masters' degrees in business and education and is experienced as a "turnaround consultant," according to a statement from Community Action Agency of Somerville. Among other things, she served 12 years as an elected member of the Cambridge Election Commissioners, it says.

Molnar starts on Dec. 3 and was not available for interviews as of this posting.

No interruption in services at the moment

Kristen Elworthy, a spokesperson for the Somerville non-profit, said there have been no interruptions in services. In addition to its Head Start programs, which represents the bulk of its operation, the Community Action Agency of Somerville offers advocacy services to low-income people. It helps protect tenants from eviction, advises residents on housing and benefits, and helps people apply for food stamps and fuel assistance, among other things.

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