Jefferson Parish Council kills $40,000 in additional parish funding for Rickey Jackson youth center _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson greets Governor-elect John Bel Edwards before a Saints game against the Carolina Panthers in the Superdome on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015.

A new audit from the Jefferson Parish Inspector General’s Office questions more than three-quarters of the parish’s reimbursements in recent years to a center for troubled youth founded by former Saints star Rickey Jackson.

The audit, released Monday by Inspector General David McClintock’s office, said the Rickey Jackson Community Hope Center in Marrero received reimbursements for more than $158,000 in expenses from the parish without adequately proving it had spent the money as it said. The center received slightly more than $200,000 overall.

The parish also overpaid the center by nearly $7,200 for expenses to do with contracting, insurance, utilities and lawn service, the audit said.

The Inspector General’s Office said its findings suggest a lack of parish oversight and violations of a cooperative endeavor agreement signed by the parish and the center on Feb. 18, 2013, which said the facility would be reimbursed only for expenses “actually incurred, without increase or markup, and supported by documentation to the reasonable satisfaction of the parish.”

Monday’s report, examining a period from the signing of the agreement to July 31 of last year, isn’t the only recent sign of trouble for the facility, which was established by the NFL Hall of Famer to offer abused and at-risk youth after-school access to computers, a recording studio, mentoring programs and counseling.

In May, the Internal Revenue Service revoked the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status, citing its repeated failure to file mandatory reports. Jackson said Monday he has moved to resolve that issue.

Meanwhile, the Jefferson Parish Council has twice deferred action on a proposal to add an extra $40,000 in funding for the center.

The Inspector General’s Office recommended that the parish review its grant-monitoring process, provide relevant training and establish benchmarks for parish-funded programs so as to provide early warning indicators of waste.

Parish President Mike Yenni’s administration, which took office in January, generally acknowledged the issues in the audit and committed to implementing McClintock’s recommendations.

Yenni replaced the person in charge of monitoring programs like the Community Hope Center when he took office. Tamithia Shaw replaced Detrich Hebert Johnson.

The center was once managed by Jackson’s son Rickeem Jackson, but the elder Jackson said Monday he now runs the facility himself.

The parish reimbursements the center received came from a combination of federal Community Development Block Grant money and discretionary funds from two council districts, including the one represented by Marrero-based Councilman Mark Spears, who managed Rickeem Jackson’s unsuccessful 2014 Jefferson Parish School Board campaign.

McClintock’s office said the parish made reimbursements without securing sufficient proof that the center’s vendors were actually paid.

Among other things, the audit objected to the center getting reimbursed for payments from Jackson’s personal bank account, rather than the facility’s.

The audit also flagged reimbursements the facility received for musical instruments and computer equipment, saying they were never inventoried, and it was not clear who would own them after the agreement with the parish expires in 2018.