New Orleans — The state is requiring a New Orleans nonprofit that works with recovering addicts to give back public assistance money that it received for Hurricane Katrina damage — $201,901 in all, according to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.
The agency conducted a compliance audit of Victory Gospel Chapel Ministries at the request of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Victory Gospel said it spent $196,962 on direct project costs and $4,939 on administrative costs, the audit said.
But auditors who inspected the site found that most of the work was incomplete and the nonprofit’s bank statement showed an available balance of only $1,170.
The audit also said that the nonprofit had not provided documentation to support the work.
According to the audit, Pastor Gary Harry said that some items purchased to replace damaged contents were stolen, and so was some chain-link fencing.
In an undated email response to the audit, Harry said that checks were sent to the wrong nonprofit, and only some of the money was eventually retrieved.
Harry also said that Victory Gospel was told to open a temporary facility and that it would be reimbursed for the cost.
He said that funds from six project worksheets that were approved were used to gut 13 buildings, cut down seven trees and remove hurricane debris.
After all that work was done, Harry said in the email, the state decided to stop the project because Victory Gospel didn’t have enough money to finish. He said the state instructed the nonprofit to use money to keep the land up by cutting grass and weeds.
According to the audit, however, FEMA determined that Victory Gospel was not eligible to receive any public assistance funding, a decision that it upheld through the appeals process. Despite that decision, FEMA still provided funding for eight projects.
But the auditors reported they couldn’t find any official documentation from FEMA overriding the appeal decision.
“After we requested the supporting documentation from FEMA, FEMA re-evaluated the issue and decided that Victory Gospel is not eligible and should not have received any Public Assistance funding,’’ the audit said.
The auditor recommended that the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness provide training to private nonprofits that might receive grants and to seek reimbursement of the money provided to Victory Gospel.
In a response to the audit, Mark DeBosier, GOHSEP’s state coordinating officer, said the state created a guide to better educate sub-grantees on federal requirements when buying goods and services with public assistance money.
“GOHSEP is taking immediate steps to recoup all funds dispersed to this applicant that are in question,’’ he wrote.
Harry could not be reached for comment.