NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The board chair of a New Orleans non-profit says it has launched an internal probe after our investigation uncovered questionable expenditures. We asked the City Council for their reaction - but some members are staying silent.
Toni Rice's non-profit gets about $500,000 of your money every year - public money. We reviewed several years of records from that non-profit and found thousands of dollars in travel and food expenses, without explanations for why taxpayer money was used to pay the bill.
For example, records show Rice traveled to Miami in July 2014 for the International Multicultural Conference. There she used the non-profit's credit card four times at the pool bar, spending $137.81. Rice also charged an additional 90 dollars at the hotel's main bar and rented two pool lounge chairs. Receipts show Rice made that trip with one other adult and a 10-year-old child.
Before the conference in Miami, she made two charges at the Crowne Plaza in Orlando. In Orlando, she also charged $511 to something logged as "IOA ADMI"; a quick search on the Internet reveals that may be associated with Universal Studios – admission to an "Island of Adventures" attraction.
Rice has refused to answer our questions.
"Where is the board of directors' oversight?" said CPA Patrick Lynch of Rogers, Lynch and Associates in an interview last year. "There is none."
Now, the network's board chair is saying something. After our story was broadcast, Essence Harris Banks sent us this statement:
"In light of your report, the board is taking immediate action to examine all policies and procedures of the organization. We are working closely with the New Orleans City Council and are committed to an open and transparent process."
We emailed back, asking for an on-camera interview, whether anyone will perform a full audit on Rice's spending, and whether she will be asked to repay any money. The board chair never responded.
We also sent an email to all seven council members, asking for a comment on our story. The council gives money to the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation, which in turn gives a portion of that money to the network.
Three council members responded , with two expressing concern about how the non-profit spent public money. But four council members - Jared Brossett, Nadine Ramsey and James Gray – failed to respond to two emailed requests for comment on how your money is being spent - silence about how a non-profit spent some of your tax dollars questionably on food and travel, while the city struggles to pave streets and pay police.