Zurik: Facebook photos cast doubt on nonprofit's mission statement

Zurik: Facebook photos cast doubt on nonprofit's mission statement
Facebook photo shows Ada Craige-Roberson and Rickey Roberson inside the Red Fish Grill, April 8, 2012.
Facebook photo shows Ada Craige-Roberson and Rickey Roberson inside the Red Fish Grill, April 8, 2012.
Juan Pablo Codnia and his daughter, Michelle.
Juan Pablo Codnia and his daughter, Michelle.

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Facebook photos show an Easter Sunday brunch, paid for out of a nonprofit's bank account.

“Pretty bodacious, wouldn't you say?” remarks Patrick Lynch, a certified public accountant and managing member of Rogers, Lynch & Associates. “Arrogant... To me, that reeks.”

The nonprofit, Alternatives Living, Inc., has a mission to take care of the disabled and homeless. But the officers admit they spent tens of thousands of dollars of the agency's money on pricey personal expenses.

Lynch calls it hypocrisy. “I think it needs to be shut down,” he says. “I think the IRS needs to get into it and get our tax dollars back.”

FOX 8 has obtained documented proof of some of those expenses.

The Facebook page of the nonprofit's director of programs, Ada Craige-Roberson, includes a picture posted Sunday, April 8, 2012, of "the family" outside "Red Fish Grill" after a "delicious brunch.” It shows Mrs. Craige-Roberson with her husband Rickey, who also works at the nonprofit as its chief financial officer. Another Facebook picture, from inside the restaurant, includes this post: "Rick and I at Red Fish getting our Easter eating on.”

The nonprofit's credit card records show the agency paid for a meal at Red Fish Grill on that same day – it cost $357.

“You see any people here that have anything to do with HUD or any social workers?” Lynch asks. “That's family. What business are they talking about?”

A few weeks later, Facebook shows the family had a Mother's Day brunch at Copeland's. That day, credit card records show the agency paid a $202 tab at Copeland's.

“Mother's Day brunch with family and sister... Where is the business purpose?” Lynch says. “So again, I think they're running, or trying to disguise, personal expenses as a legitimate business expense.”

Juan Pablo Codnia and his daughter, Michelle, love the Black and Gold. For the past three years they've been waiting for Alternatives Living to give them help. Codnia explained their dire straits, in terms that any New Orleans Saints fan would recognize.

“We are in such a difficult spot,” he says. “I can only summarize it like Drew Brees in a ‘Hail Mary' situation – have to throw a long pass and make the play with very little time on the clock.”

Michelle is 22 years old and has Down syndrome. “She was a little bit depressed,” her father tells us.

When Codnia requested some sort of assistance from the state, officials told them to call Alternatives Living. “We are on our own,” he explains. “So everything we do is on our own dime.”

After that phone call, he says Alternatives Living set up an appointment. But no one showed up.

“I would expect something more human,” Codnia says.

He gave us follow-up documentation that shows him begging the nonprofit for help for his daughter. Again, he got nothing.

“They cut us off,” Codnia says.

Codnia tells us he and his daughter sat in their one-bedroom apartment two weeks ago and watched

. It showed spending for pricey meals and travel out of the nonprofit's account.

“It's a bit of a slap in the face,” he says, for anyone who needs help from people who profess their mission to be taking care of the less fortunate. “You talk about financial pressure? You need to come and see us.”

The nonprofit's own bylaws state that no part of the agency's earnings can go "to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual."

“That's the whole point of a 501(c)(3),” Lynch says, “to use the money for a charitable purpose, not to line the pockets of the administrators.”

Still, the officers have admitted that they spent tens of thousands of dollars on themselves.

“Some of the stuff we just didn't know, and we learned the hard way,” said Rickey Roberson in an early November interview with FOX 8.

Now these Facebook photos raise even more questions about their spending. Another one shows Ada Craige-Roberson celebrating her birthday on November 18, 2011. That night, the agency charged a room at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown New Orleans.

“Not only is it a poor excuse to hide the personal expenses, it's pretty lavish,” Lynch says. “It's not at Marriott, it's at Ritz-Carlton.”

On that same date the next year, November 18, 2012, the officers charged a meal at Stella restaurant, costing $528.59.

Facebook photos also show the family's Caribbean cruise. The photos show the family in St. Thomas on Christmas day, and later horseback riding in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“In our minds, we're not really thinking we're paying for our personal vacation on the company,” Ada Craige-Roberson told us.

The officers claimed in our interview that they're always working, even when their 1,700 miles away from home.

“It's an abuse,” Lynch tells us.

Part of the federal grant money that Alternatives Living has received was supposed to go toward payroll taxes. Records show they owe the federal government more than $1 million in unpaid taxes and penalties.

So, if the federal government is requiring part of this money be used to pay payroll taxes for Alternatives Living employees, what does it mean when they instead use the money for personal expenses?

“It means they're stealing from the federal government,” Lynch explains. “It's not complicated, Lee. Your parents gave you money to pay your college tuition; you went to the bar. Is that what they gave you the money for?”

And this CPA says the facts, and these Facebook photos, could spell trouble for the officers of this nonprofit, who Lynch says have been living large.

“It's a great mission, we're funding it,” he says. “It's our money we're using, and these people are living like kings. The people we want to help are being stolen from.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was first broadcast in November 2014. Since then, the La. legislative auditor's office has issued its own report on Alternative Livings, confirming many of the details first raised by FOX 8.

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