TOPEKA, Kansas — Federal investigators said they found so much dubious spending by a foundation dedicated to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case that it questioned "all funds" given to the group.
A months-long investigation by the Department of the Interior's Office of Inspector General found "unallowable, unreasonable and unsupported" spending by the Brown Foundation of Education Equity, Excellence and Research in Topeka, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Tuesday (http://bit.ly/N6uRZg ).
The investigation began after an audit last year questioned nearly $620,871 in spending by the foundation, which used to receive most of its funding from the National Park Service, from October 2008 to September 2011.
Investigators said it was impossible to conduct a complete review of the Brown Foundation's spending because of poor financial management, commingling of funds and missing documentation to justify expenses.
"As a result, we question all funds given to the foundation," the OIG report states.
The Brown Foundation issued a statement in response Tuesday, saying that the "report confirms the Brown Foundation's position throughout this process that reimbursements and expenditures involving federal dollars received the prior approval of the National Park Service."
The report says that the National Park Service "did not review Foundation spending due to a hands-off approach to managing the agreement."
The foundation refused to comment beyond the statement.
Cheryl Brown Henderson, the daughter of the lead plaintiff of in the Brown v. Board of Education case, was the founder and executive director of the foundation, and was briefly superintendent of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.
The report indicates investigators asked Brown Henderson about foundation records showing purchases such as limousines, gift cards, tickets to a Broadway show and a hotel vacation package.
Among other things, the investigation determined the foundation didn't follow federal travel regulations, commingled National Park Service monies between its accounts, provided inadequate accounting records and made it impossible to clearly track specific costs back to the cooperative agreement with the National Park Service.
The OIG also found that National Park Service contracting officials may have violated federal regulations by not adequately managing a cooperative agreement with the foundation, The Capital-Journal reported. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Kansas has declined to prosecute but an administrative referral is being made to NPS for appropriate action, the report said.
The Brown v. Board historic site is located in the former all-black Topeka school where Brown Henderson's sister, Linda Brown, and another plaintiff's child were students. The foundation originally operated rent-free in the historic site's second floor and received more than three-quarters of its budget from the park service — about $300,000 annually.
Brown Henderson was picked to lead the National Park site in 2010 but held the position for just six months before resigning to resume leading the foundation, which was asked to vacate the historic site on Dec. 1, 2011. The foundation is now based in Brown Henderson's home and receives no federal funding.
David Smith, superintendent of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, said Tuesday the National Park Service agrees with the OIG's findings.
"We think the OIG validated our decision to sever financial ties between the Brown Foundation and the National Park Service," Smith told the Capital-Journal.
Smith said after the park service received an initial OIG report in July, staff at the Brown v. Board site and the park service's Midwest Regional Office in Omaha, Nebraska, conducted internal reviews of all files associated with the cooperative agreement, and some charges were found to be justifiable.
The park service will contact the Brown Foundation soon to discuss the questionable costs and possibly issue a bill of collection, although Smith didn't know the total amount the Brown Foundation might have to reimburse the park service.
Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com