FBI asking questions about troubled nonprofit founded by Evans

State Rep. Dwight Evans founded the nonprofit.
State Rep. Dwight Evans founded the nonprofit.
Posted: August 18, 2014

Four people who have had adversarial dealings with a West Oak Lane nonprofit founded by State Rep. Dwight Evans say they have been interviewed by the FBI about the agency, Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp.

The earliest reported contact was in November. The most recent was within the last two months. Those interviewed say federal agents asked specific questions about their interactions with the OARC, but there was a suggestion that their interest was broader.

"They indicated they were investigating multiple things, but they did not reveal what those were," said one of those interviewed, Peter Meadow, a California lawyer who represented a client, Sadiki Travick, in a contract dispute with OARC.

Word of the FBI's interest comes after a two-year state investigation into spending by OARC, a sprawling nonprofit that, with the help of Evans - then one of the most powerful Democrats in the Pennsylvania House - collected tens of millions of dollars in state grants.

The state investigation ended last year with OARC admitting no wrongdoing but agreeing to return $1.2 million in taxpayer funds and forgoing an additional $1.8 million that had already been approved. OARC remains eligible for future funding.

Last week, new questions were raised about OARC's finances. According to the City Controller's Office, the nonprofit still owes the city $256,000 for police services provided for its West Oak Lane Jazz Festival in 2010 and 2011. The organization received more than $1.8 million in state grants for the festival those years, including $210,000 earmarked for security in 2010 alone.

OARC's position on the reported city debt is unclear. Numerous efforts to reach Jack Kitchen, the nonprofit's chief executive officer for 14 years until June, and Kimberly Lloyd, its interim CEO, for comment for this story were unsuccessful.

Evans, who has no formal tie to OARC - he is neither an officer nor a board member - declined to comment beyond saying he had no knowledge of any FBI interest in the nonprofit.

"What do you not understand about the word no?" Evans said when queried further.

Patricia Hartman, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia, said her office would not confirm or deny the existence of any FBI investigation.

Evans founded OARC 30 years ago to advance community development in West Oak Lane, which is in the heart of his district. He is credited with using his position as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee to direct more than $29 million in state aid to the nonprofit since 2000.

His success, however, proved his undoing when his Democratic peers, unhappy that so much aid was going to his district at the expense of theirs, voted in 2010 to strip him of his leadership post.

The FBI's interest in OARC was confirmed by Meadow, Travick, Germantown publisher Jim Foster, and a Mount Airy property owner who declined to be identified.

Meadow said he spoke with the FBI for about an hour by phone in December. He said he also provided the agents with documents, including contract proposals and e-mails he had exchanged with Kitchen.

Travick, who once co-owned a West Oak Lane restaurant with OARC, said FBI agents interviewed him three times in November and December. He said he, too, provided files he had kept on his dealings with OARC.

Foster, publisher of two community newspapers, the Germantown Chronicle and the Northwest Independent, said he met with agents about six months ago and then about three months ago. He described the interviews as wide-ranging, touching upon OARC, Evans, and other nonprofits in Northwest Philadelphia.

Foster said the agents contacted him in part because he had written critically of Evans and OARC in his papers.

In particular, Foster challenged Kitchen on the appropriateness of OARC's purchase of a Mount Airy nightclub in 2009.

"They don't give you much information," Foster said of the FBI agents. "But I have to say I got the feeling there was activity going on. They focused a lot on nonprofits and certainly on OARC and their operations."

The Mount Airy property owner who spoke on condition of anonymity said the FBI talked with him in the last "month or two" for about an hour in his home about a lease dispute he had with OARC.

Some of the agents' questions focused on allegations that surfaced during the state's two-year review of OARC's operations.

A confidential report prepared for the state Inspector General's Office alleged that OARC had misspent or mismanaged portions of state grants worth $12 million since 2006. Investigators concluded that OARC violated bidding rules, made questionable property purchases, and improperly shifted or used grant money between 2006 and 2011.

In one instance, the examiners found that OARC used $110,000 from three grants over two years to promote Wine Down Wednesdays, an after-work promotion at Sadiki's, an Ogontz Avenue restaurant that the nonprofit co-owned with Travick.

While OARC reported spending some of the grant money in 2008, Travick, in an interview last year, said the restaurant stopped the weekly promotion in 2007.

Travick, in a recent interview, said two FBI agents showed up unannounced at his home last November - at about 7:30 a.m.

He had been recruited by Kitchen in 2007 to run Sadiki's, a restaurant at 7152 Ogontz Ave., a property then owned by OARC. The restaurant, now known as Relish, struggled without a liquor license while Travick ran it. OARC promised assistance in getting a liquor license, Travick said.

Ultimately, there was a falling-out between him and Kitchen, with Travick contending in a lawsuit that the nonprofit's CEO physically threatened him unless he turned over his 51 percent share of the restaurant to OARC. Kitchen denied threatening Travick, who saw most of his claims dismissed in court.

Travick eventually did turn over his share. A liquor license for the restaurant was approved for the property four days later.

Travick said the FBI asked him about the state funds that had been allocated to promote Wine Down Wednesday - money, Travick said, he never saw.

"They asked questions about OARC and the money OARC allocated to the restaurant," he said. "They wanted to know how the money was spent."

His attorney, Meadow, said he was contacted by the FBI to provide more details about Travick's interaction with OARC.

"I filled in some blanks I knew Sadiki did not remember and I provided them with copies of e-mails and contract proposals," Meadow said. "They led me to believe this was a broad investigation that would include more than what happened to Sadiki's restaurant. The indication I got was that was merely a small part of their investigation."


chepp@phillynews.com

215-854-2594

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