NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Crimestoppers of Greater New Orleans is now releasing statistics FOX 8 first asked for eight months ago. The move comes as we raised questions about the non-profits most recent financial audit.
It all started with one simple question in February: What types of crimes did Crimestoppers help to solve in 2016, and how many? For months, we went back and forth with the non-profit, attempting to get the basic numbers.
Repeatedly, we were told no.
In May, we asked Crimestoppers CEO Darlene Cusanza if she could give us a ballpark figure of how many homicides were solved through Crimestoppers tips. She replied, "We're not going to do that because we are very concerned about the confidentiality of our tipsters."
Finally, after eight months and four stories on the organization, they have released the stats.
In 2016, for the nine parishes Crimestoppers of Greater New Orleans covers, it says law enforcement has reported 311 cases solved with the help of their tips. The most serious offenses included six homicides, nine aggravated battery/assault, 39 fugitives for various charges, 25 burglaries and six weapons/firearms arrests.
A total of $60,000 was paid out in tips for those crimes. As of June, up to $2,500 was offered for tips leading to arrests in homicide cases. But after we reported the $3 million in assets belonging to the organization, we questioned if rewards should be increased to entice more tips. We were initially told no.
"We did a study and we looked at comparisons and we came up with a number of $2,500 which other organizations have since bumped up to," Cusanza said in May.
But after our first story aired, Crimestoppers called a press conference. At the event in June, Cusanza said, "Crimestoppers is announcing today, for the summer months, that we have now increased our rewards for homicides up to $5,000. "
Now that we are in the fall, we asked Cusanza this month if the increased rewards are still being offered. She told us yes, that they'll be in place throughout the year. It's a move applauded by city Councilwoman Susan Guidry, the head of the Criminal Justice Committee.
"I think it's a great idea. I think as long as its sustainable, it should be done," Guidry said.
Cusanza says for the months of July, August and September, when the increased rewards were put into place, tips to Crimestoppers remained almost the same. But she acknowledged a three-month period may not be a statistically sound amount of time to evaluate. Iit could take longer to see if more money yields more tips.
"Obviously when a witness is trying to determine whether to take the risk of calling Crimestoppers and giving a tip, that witness is going to take into account what the benefit is going to be. If the benefit is twice what it was before, its twice as likely some of these witnesses will go ahead and make that call."
CPA Patrick Lynch, who analyzed the non-profit's financial information, says there's enough money in the bank to keep the increased rewards going long term.
"The restricted cash that they have, a total of $1.3 million, will fund three years of their program, their expenses that are term "rewards, hotline and tips,' Lynch said.
Lynch says the unrestricted cash will fund many more years. In fact, he even suggests raising the reward amount even higher.
"Double it. Let's say the $60,000 was all that $2,500," he said. "Double it $120,000. You're sitting on $1 million of restricted assets. That's 10 years."
An audit of Crimestoppers 2016 finances, posted to the state legislative auditor's website, shows the non-profit has a total of $3.3 million in assets. That's up $121,000 from 2015. There's a little over $1 million in restricted cash and cash equivalents and $2.2 million in unrestricted cash and cash equivalents.
While the audit looks similar in many ways to previous years, two things stood out. Mandeville based auditor Griffin & Furman, LLC tells FOX 8 they started their field work, or gathering financial information from Crimestoppers office, in May of this year. Cusanza says the audit actually began in February. In May, the month the field work began, we sat down with Cusanza, asking about the non-profit's finances and her $200,000 plus salary in 2015.
The audit was signed June 30th, 2017, one day after our story aired on Cusanza's salary, which a charity watchdog group said is twice the amount what CEO's of similar sized charities across the country typically earn.
In two previous audits, detailed information was provided on Cusanza's salary but this time, it says, "schedule is not applicable as no compensation, benefits or other payments to the chief executive officer are made from public funds". The organization receives public money from court fees which they say is used to pay for a tip hotline and rewards, not Cusanza's salary. There's no way by looking at this audit, to determine how much money CEO Darlene Cusanza made in 2016.
"They are withholding this information so you and others who are watching them, can't pick at it," Lynch said.
Cusanza says the decision not to include the salary information was made because it is not required based on guidance provided by the Louisiana legislative auditor. We checked with the auditor's office. Non-profit's are not required to include the CEO's salary if it's not paid for with public funds. Yet, Lynch questions why Crimestoppers chose to change the audit at all.
He questions, "Why would you withhold information? Seems to me you would want to put out more information."
Another change in the 2016 audit from previous audits we examined, the list of Crimestoppers functional expenses is smaller than in any previous year we could find.
"It is much truncated this year," Lynch commented.
For example, in the 2015 audit you could see 28 line items detailing how much money was spent on everything from rewards to office supplies, postage and even a board retreat. The 2016 audit has only 10 line items, lumping together a number of the expenses.
Sara Nason, marketing manager with the website Charity Navigator, said, "It is curious that they're changing the practice, but I don't have any specific information on the reason for the changing."
We reached out to Cusanza about these changes, questioning why a more detailed account of the non-profit's finances wasn't provided. She said this past year, Crimestoppers reformatted the schedule to reflect more major categories of expenses and that including the information is optional.
Lynch says, "How am I to compare what they're doing? I should have comparable financials, comparable schedules, so it does give me great concern that they are not being transparent."
We also tried to find out why the crime statistics from last year are just now being released after eight months of asking. Cusanza didn't provide an answer. Regardless, with violent crime in New Orleans, the hope is that increased rewards will yield more tips, and will result in more crimes being solved.
According to Charity Navigator, Crimestoppers is required by law to document Cusanza's salary on its 990 tax form. As of now, the 2016 form hasn't been made publicly available.
Here's the complete breakdown of the crimes that tips to Crimestoppers have helped to solve in 2016, for the nine parishes the non-profit serves:
6 homicides, 9 aggravated battery/assault 39 fugitives for various charges including 2 for homicide, 3 aggravated kidnapping, 118 narcotics, 10 armed robberies, 2 bank robberies, 5 shootings , 2 home invasions ,
17 thefts, 1 simple robbery; 5 vandalism, 25 burglaries, 6 weapons/firearms, 3 contempt of court, 1 computer aided solicitation, 2 contributing to the delinquency of a minor, 2 simple battery, 1 criminal damage to property, 2 cruelty to a juvenile, 8 fraud, 1 obstruction of justice, 1 parole violation, 1 possession of child pornography and 1 possession of pornography, 5 possession of stolen items, 1 prostitution, 1 runaway,
1 shoplifting, 29 various warrants not specified by law enforcement, multiple school related administrative disciplinary actions including possession of weapon on school grounds.