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In the spring of 2000, the Next Generation Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit created the year before by Philadelphia NAACP President and political rainmaker Jerome Whyatt Mondesire, acquired its first property: a run-down building at the corner of 16th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. It would later serve as the NAACP’s headquarters.
Over the years, the Next Generation CDC would acquire at least four more properties and apply for, and receive, hundreds of thousands of dollars in state grants to rehabilitate them as affordable housing—“to be rented to low-income families who have been on the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s waiting list for a considerable period of time,” as Mondesire explained in one of dozens of grant applications submitted to the state.
Nearly a decade and a half later, and after more than half a million dollars of public funds invested in those projects, not one appears to be serving that purpose. And whether or how much of the work promised was ever done in the first place is unclear.
Of five properties one is a vacant lot, demolished years ago when it was deemed unsafe by the city; another is a blighted, abandoned shell. Renovations for rental housing above the NAACP’s office were apparently undertaken but never finished. A fourth property, by Mondesire’s own assertion, is empty, and a fifth property houses Mondesire’s own private business and, according to him, serves as his own residence.
These and other revelations come from hundreds of public documents detailing dozens of grants awarded to Mondesire’s nonprofit over the years, obtained by AxisPhilly via public records requests from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), which awarded the nonprofit over $700,000 in grants, most of it for affordable housing work. Often, the applications used both the names of the Next Generation CDC and the NAACP, as if they were the same entity.
The documents show that much of the grant money to rehabilitate at least two properties went to the relative of a City Council member—Charles Tasco, the son of 9th District City Councilwoman Marian Tasco—for purported work on two properties that are now vacant, and for which little documentation was submitted.
They include at least two invoices for work on the vacant properties from a sub-contractor who says the invoices, bearing his company’s logo, are fake and that he never worked on either property in question, but instead had worked for Tasco on a different property around the same time.
And they shed new light on the question being asked with increasing insistence by NAACP members, former allies of Mondesire, and the press of what exactly the Next Generation CDC was and is, and what exactly its president, Mondesire, has done with the substantial funds it drew for over a decade.
A week ago, AxisPhilly reported that work to restore the playing field of the North Philadelphia Aztecs, aided by a $100,000 grant from DCED—never got done, despite an audit submitted by Mondesire to state officials years later seeming to claim that the work had been done.
The new documents reviewed by AxisPhilly suggest that yet more projects for which Mondesire and his nonprofit obtained public funding were never completed. In some cases, it’s unclear whether they were undertaken at all.
Mondesire has characterized the Next Generation CDC as different things at different times, but the bulk of funds granted to the nonprofit by the state’s DCED— at least $400,000—were awarded for the development of five properties as affordable housing.
Eleven grant applications AxisPhilly was able to review were signed by Mondesire himself, and also by Harriet Garrett, listed in Next Generation CDC tax forms as the organization’s treasurer. Garrett pled guilty in 2010 to charges of personally benefitting from her own nonprofit, of which Mondesire was board chairman. Garrett appears to have remained part of Next Generation CDC through at least 2008. The Daily News reported last week that the Attorney General’s Office is reviewing questions raised about Next Generation CDC finances in the Garrett investigation.
In a letter to AxisPhilly, Mondesire maintained that “all work supported by public funds was done on buildings which are now being used to better our community.”
But a survey of those properties suggests otherwise:
- Work to renovate the upper floor of 1619 Cecil B. Moore Ave., the headquarters of the NAACP, into a rental unit was started, but never finished, according to current and former NAACP members with whom AxisPhilly spoke and who had attended meetings there.
- The three-story building at 6229 Germantown Ave., for which the Next Generation CDC was granted at least $35,000 by DCED for repairs, remains a vacant shell, and has been cited by the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections for missing windows and a broken front door.
- 509 E. Chelten Ave., which the nonprofit received a minimum of $40,000 to renovate, was so blighted that the city demolished it in 2012, citing safety hazards. It is now a vacant lot.
- Another property owned by the Next Generation, 213 E. Phil Elena St., is, by Mondesire’s own assertion in a letter to AxisPhilly, unfinished and unready for occupancy—though one neighbor, who declined to be identified after learning he was speaking to a reporter, indicated that Mondesire himself lived there.
- Mondesire denied this in a letter to AxisPhilly—but by way of stating that his residence is yet another building, 6661 Germantown Ave., also owned by the Next Generation CDC, for which it received grants totaling at least $100,000 for renovations. That building also houses Mondesire’s private business, the Sunday Sun newspaper.
The abandoned shell at 6229 Germantown Ave. and the now-vacant lot at 509 E. Chelten Ave. perhaps raise the sharpest questions about how tens of thousands in state grants for each were spent.
Bulk of the work
According to records Mondesire submitted to state officials, the bulk of the work supposed to have been done on those two properties was carried out by Charles Tasco. (Records reviewed show no indication Tasco’s mother, City Councilwoman Marian Tasco, had anything to do with the project.)
The records show invoices with the “Charles Tasco Construction” letterhead, for over $70,000 of work for both properties. The records show copies of checks for less than that, roughly $24,000, made out to Charles Tasco personally.
Tasco, reached at his job as a tipstaff for the Court of Common Pleas, declined to comment. Councilwoman Tasco also did not return multiple phone calls.
Another contractor who supposedly did work on the same properties says the invoices for his work submitted by Mondesire to state officials are bogus.
Two invoices submitted by Mondesire to state officials for $8,000 for stairways for both properties were never submitted by his company, says Peter Reich, of Peter Associates. The invoice numbers, he said, in no way matched his own records.
His company had, he said, done work around the same time—but on a different property owned by the Next Generation CDC—1619 Cecil B. Moore, the NAACP’s headquarters. What’s more, he says the work was commissioned not by the Next Generation CDC but by Charles Tasco.
Those aren’t the only invoices that might bear more scrutiny: Several invoices in the grant documents, including those from “Charles Tasco Construction,” cite an incorrect address of 6629, not 6229 Germantown Ave.—perhaps confusing the latter address with Mondesire’s offices at 6661 Germantown Ave. The same mistake appears in at least one letter submitted by Mondesire himself to state officials.
In a letter to AxisPhilly, Mondesire said, “There may have been some confusion about which particular contractor did work on each building.”
The documents raise other questions about how exactly the state funds were spent.
The applications for the DCED grants clearly describe the Next Generation as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization. But none of the grant income was reported in federal 990 tax forms required annually of any tax-exempt nonprofit. The last such form the Next Generation CDC filed was for 2005, and the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status was automatically revoked by the IRS in 2010.
City records, meanwhile, show no record of construction permits having been pulled for those properties by Tasco or anyone else. The company that received the bulk of the money for work on the two properties that are still vacant, Charles Tasco Construction, is not registered under that name as a business in Pennsylvania Department of State records.
And despite claims in state grant applications that the Next Generation CDC had “acquired” the properties at 59 E. Chelten Ave. and 6229 Germantown Ave.—in fact the nonprofit has never owned either.
The first is still owned by the city’s Department of Public Property; the latter was, until just months ago, still owned by the city’s Redevelopment Authority. A spokesperson for that agency said that the Redevelopment Authority had no knowledge of the Next Generation CDC’s plans or the grants it got.
Gerald Egan, an attorney representing former NAACP members listed as board members of the NAACP and now suing Mondsesire for documentation of the nonprofit’s finances, called the new findings “distressing.”
“It was not shared with my clients, who were board members,” he says. “Our position is that obviously it should have been.”
Longtime NAACP members Sidney Booker, Rev. Elisha B. Morris, and Donald “Ducky” Birts, who is not named in the lawsuit because he was an “officer” and not a board member of the Next Generation CDC—on paper, anyway—maintain that they knew nothing about the nonprofit’s activities, or that it owned or claimed to have worked on any properties other than the NAACP headquarters and Mondesire’s business.
On Wednesday, a judge agreed to grant Booker and Morris an order requiring Mondesire to hand over that information.
Mondesire has meanwhile responded to AxisPhilly’s report that his organization received funding for, but never built, a youth football field.
In a letter, he acknowledged that the field hadn’t been restored, but said the funds were used instead “to support our anti-violence and scholarship programs” and that “the funding adjustment was approved.”
Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesperson for DCED, said in a statement to AxisPhilly that “No amendment for adjustment of funds was requested of or received by DCED.”
Kensinger said in a previous statement that the agency would look into how that grant had been spent.
As for the other grants, Kensinger said that for grants of less than $100,000, DCED requires its grantees to submit only invoices as evidence of work performed and the agency had no reason to believe funds had been misspent.
DCED came under fire during the administration of former Governor Ed Rendell, for being a go-through for elected officials’ pet projects.
If the grants to the Next Generation CDC were supported by an elected official or officials, there’s no direct documentation of it in the grant documents, though several applications contain letters from Mondesire to various elected officials “informing” them of his grant application, including state reps Mark Cohen and Ronald Waters and state Sen. Leanna Washington and former Sen. Vincent Fumo.
Mondesire referred in his recent letter to AxisPhilly to “the elected official who secured the funding” for the football field restoration grant, but didn’t say who that was, though the Inquirer yesterday identified a letter in which Mondesire thanked Fumo for his “generous support” of that project.
Since Gov. Rendell left office, many of the programs, including those to which Mondesire applied for grants, have been closed down.