Sunday, June 2, 2013

Non-Profit Leader Indicted in Alleged Land Bank Scam Had Lengthy Criminal History; His Charity Was Awarded $170,000 in Grants By the City in the Last Year

The Indianapolis Star reports:
He has stolen checks from employers and deposited them in his personal bank account. He has created fake IDs to obtain loans. Once he even used a fake name to steal a root canal from a local dentist, court records show.

Despite a criminal past that includes convictions for forgery, theft and fraud, David Johnson became a key participant in the city of Indianapolis’ effort to redevelop vacant homes in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

His organization, Indiana Minority AIDS Coalition, bought 37 properties for as little as $1,000 each through the city’s land bank program, which is intended to put abandoned properties into the hands of responsible owners.
The article goes on to detail Johnson's lengthy criminal history which begins with a conviction in 1993 on five counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument for cutting checks on bank accounts he had opened up using fake names and false identification at three Louisville banks.  In 1995, he was convicted of the same crime, this time though consisting of 31 counts, for cashing more than $9,000 worth of stolen checks from a car dealership in Louisville. That same year he was sentenced to four years for forgery for using a fake name to obtain a credit card.  By 2009, he was using the name David Johnson and working as a manger at a building supply store.  Johnson opened an unauthorized bank account and deposited three checks from the supply store’s customers totaling more than $50,000. He was ordered to repay more than $7,000 and was sentenced to three years, with one of those years on work release and two of those years suspended.

In addition to the Indiana Minority AIDS Coalition receiving the 37 properties from the Land Bank, the Star reports that city in the past year awarded the non-profit five housing and homelessness prevention grants since totaling more than $170,000.  Apparently though not all the money has been dispersed yet.

The most astonishing part of the article though was the response of city officials who felt there was no need to do criminal background checks in such circumstances:
But criminal background checks aren’t likely to be part of any reforms, based on the reaction of city officials when asked about Johnson’s history.

“The mayor is focused on programs and partnering with groups that help people re-enter society from prison,” Lotter said.

In fact, the city has a re-entry hiring program through which it employs former inmates in some city departments, he said.

Other city officials emphasized that the city does business with organizations, not individuals. Investigating the personal backgrounds of an organization’s employees would be impractical and could contribute to recidivism by preventing former inmates from finding gainful employment, said Vop Osili, a member of the City-County Council who also sits on the board of PACE, a nonprofit group that helps former inmates transition back into society.
The article quotes Common Cause's policy director Julia Vaughn who indicated that while it's admirable to try to help people with a criminal record get a job, a person's criminal history is something that should be reviewed and considered.  In this case, she indicated it could have raised red flags.

I totally agree with Ms. Vaughn.  I am all for giving those with a criminal history, even when that history includes a felony, another chance.  I've seen too many people who sincerely want to turn their lives around but can't get any job because they have a felony in their backgrounds.  But that doesn't mean you simply close your eyes to their criminal history when you hire them for a job or choose to do business with them, or hand them $170,000 of the taxpayers money.  In Johnson's case, city officials should have known about his lengthy and recent criminal history of fraud and forgery, skills that are quite useful when it comes to engaging in a real estate fraud scheme.


varangianguard said...

If fewer Mayoral Minions spent the majority of their time spying on the local blogosphere, they might have more time for vetting those who receive largesse at the expense of the taxpayer. But then, THAT might put a damper on their post-governmental job prospects?

Veracity said...

So you suggest running a criminal background check on all the employees of every organization doing business with the City of Indianapolis? And how many millions is that going to cost us?!?

Indy Student said...

Not every organization conducting business with the city will benefit from that much money. But if we're talking a LOT of money, like with that Litebox guy, then yeah, a background check would be worth it.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Veracity, David Johnson wasn't just an employee of the organization. He was the PRESIDENT of the organization. When you're talking tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars going to an organization, it's not out of line to expect the administration has done a background check on the leadership of that organization. Any way you slice it the administration dropped the ball.

Jon said...

Never mind his position,how come no one in local government saw any red flags when 37 houses were sold for ridiculously low prices? How there wasn't any follow up by anyone as to whether or not the houses were going to responsible owners?