Zurik: $70,000 in federal grant money... for nothing - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Lee Zurik Investigation: $70,000 in federal grant money... for nothing

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File image of Schwann Sumas File image of Schwann Sumas
New Orleans, La. -

A public servant has pleaded guilty in federal court to theft charges stemming from a series of FOX 8 reports. She'll be sentenced by a federal judge next month.

For six months of work, taxpayers paid Schwann Sumas of New Orleans $70,000 - but our 2011 investigation showed she did little work for that pay.

"I'm shocked, totally shocked and appalled, that's my reaction," said investment banker Ed Shanklin when we interviewed him in 2011, showing him documents that linked him to Sumas and a local public entity, the New Orleans Regional Business Park.

"I have no idea why my name was brought into this." Shanklin told us.

Back in 2009, Sumas administrated a grant for the business park. The grant, funded with federal money, was designed to train and otherwise assist small business owners in New Orleans East.

We received those grant records and found a document that shows a company by the name of E&S Financial Services took part in the grant program. The document named the alleged owner of E&S as Ed Shanklin.

But Shanklin told us he'd never even heard of E&S Financial Services, and certainly did not own the company – a company that wasn't even registered with the secretary of state's office as a corporation.

When we showed Shanklin the NORPB paperwork, he told us, "No, I did not take part in the program at the Regional Business Park… I have no need to take those classes. I am a professional investment banker."

NORPB records include a document that shows the items discussed with Shanklin, including the creation and implementation of a comprehensive marketing plan, a network plan, a business plan, and development of a written policy for future employees. Shanklin is shown as the senior director of the company and even lists his home address.

Shanklin says he knew Sumas but has never talked to her about taking classes or any company.

"My name was falsified on this document," Shanklin said.

Still, Sumas submitted those records to the business park and the state - and received federal dollars for working with Shanklin.

We also found that Sumas billed the state and received federal dollars for consulting a company called CTK Support Services. Documents show the owner of that company is Clarice Thomas, and they listed a P.O. box for her address.

The Clarice Thomas at that P.O. box is Clarice Thomas Kirkland, who works at City Hall. She's also Schwann Sumas' mother.

Records show a number of items for her mother's company, including development of a marketing and business plan. Nonetheless, the secretary of state's office had no record of CTK Support Services ever being registered as a company.

Sumas billed the state on five different occasions from October to December 2009 for services to her mother's alleged company. But Clarice Thomas Kirkland's city payroll records show, on each of those days, she was working at City Hall for the full day.

Sumas also billed for another City Hall employee, Jeanette Thomas Allen, and her alleged company, Designs by K&J. That company has never been registered with the secretary of state's office.

Jeanette Thomas Allen is Schwann Sumas' aunt.

"It's a passion for me," said clothing designer Mary Hampton, who signed up for the program to help small businesses. "Since I was a little girl, I've always loved clothes."

Hampton says the program actively recruited her. Now, she calls it a disappointment.

When we asked what they did for her, she simply told us, "Nothing. Absolutely nothing."

Yet records show that the federal government paid for training and consulting for Hampton and her small business.

Late last year, federal authorities charged Sumas with stealing federal funds, and she pleaded guilty to those charges in December. Sumas admitted to stealing more than $17,000. Remember: She received about $70,000 from the program.

FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti says Sumas' plea deal likely reduced the dollar value of the crime.

"Usually when you come to an agreement like this, they decide on a number," Raspanti says. "Certainly it's a number that they say, 'We absolutely can prove, documentarily…' They usually hold a stick over your head to say, ‘We could prove more, with testimony or whatever, but if you'll plead to this, we'll walk away.'"

Sumas will receive her sentence in March, when she makes another appearance in federal court.

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