Philly's ‘Goods for Guns' Program Misused Grant Funds: DOJ

An audit has charged a Philadelphia gun buyback program, which provided grocery gift cards in exchange for weapons, misused more than $450,000 in grant funds from the federal government.

Philadelphia Safety Net (PSN) received $800,000 in grants from the U.S. Department of Justice to run its “Goods for Guns” program from July 2010 through March 2012. The program would hold events where Philadelphia Police would collect guns and, in return, Philadelphia Safety Net would provide $100 grocery store gift cards.

The DOJ’s inspector general audited the program and found 62 percent – or $479,183 – of the grant moneys were used for either "unallowable, unsupported and/or unreasonable" expenses.

According to the audit, PSN’s Executive Director Raymond Jones, the organization’s sole employee, gave himself a $85,065 pay increase over a two year period. The increase brought his total salary to $287,565, which was higher than the organization’s board of directors approved, auditors say.

The audit said there was a conflict of interest with the board since Jones’ sister served as chairperson and did not conduct day-to-day oversight of the organization’s activity.

Jones reimbursed the organization for a portion of the funds used, but the DOJ audit said he still owes $3,389 used to pay for a parking ticket, hotel stay, gas, clothing, restaurants and cash withdrawals.

In addition to the compensation, the audit says PSN spent $29,750 in rent on a building that was used once a month and did not properly account for $13,947 in utilities used.

Despite the allegations of misused funds, PSN did hold gun buyback events and collected 2,871 guns. However, the organization could not account for 280 gift cards which were not traded for a weapon.

Jones talked with NBC10 in March 2012 about his program. At that time, he said his program had helped remove 1,000 guns from the city's streets.

The audit said PSN was lacking in internal controls meant to prevent these issues and recommends making 11 changes including to “remedy” the unallowable, unreasonable and unsupported costs.

The Philadelphia Safety Net’s website has been taken down and its phone line disconnected. A request for comment by email was not immediately returned.

But in a written response to the DOJ’s audit, Jones said he suspended the organization’s operation until a new board of directors is elected. He also said he’s provided the DOJ with all documentation accounting for expenses.

Jones disagreed with the findings about his compensation saying that his duties not only included the work as executive director, but also as grant manager, public relations director, office manager and outreach coordinator.

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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