Morning Report: Volunteers of America Chapter Accused of Fraud

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Morning Report: Volunteers of America Chapter Accused of Fraud

The Volunteers of America Southwest building in San Diego / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Volunteers of America Southwest, the San Diego chapter of the powerful national nonprofit, receives millions of dollars each year in government funds to provide housing, mental health services and addiction recovery to veterans, homeless people and other vulnerable citizens.

County officials are demanding that the group pay back roughly $6.5 million that made up a large portion of the funds provided by the county to Volunteers of America Southwest between 2018 and 2020, after auditors uncovered a number of issues with its billing and other financial practices.

In a new investigation, Will Huntsberry compiles interviews with former employees who blew the whistle on improper practices, lawsuits against the nonprofit and the county audit to paint a picture of an organization where managers “engaged in mismanagement, waste, misuse of public funds, conflicts of interest, potential fraud and double-billed some clients.”

The true extent of the alleged misspending could be far greater than the county audit shows. 

“Managers at the charity also purchased tens of thousands of dollars in gift cards, billed for conferences they had no proof of attending, charged for unexplained rental car expenses and used company credit cards for what appeared to be personal trips, according to a former employee and county auditors,” Huntsberry writes.

County officials have terminated their contract with Volunteers of America Southwest. The county had been giving Volunteers of America Southwest millions of dollars each year to run a 120-bed rehabilitation center for people with substance use disorders in National City. Volunteers of America Southwest did not say whether it plans to repay the money.

County officials have referred their findings to the district attorney’s office.

It’s Not Clear How Far SDG&E Has to Go to Reach ‘Net Zero’

Like many companies and government agencies, SDG&E has pledged to achieve “net zero” planet-warming emissions by 2045. (That means the company can emit planet-warming gases as long as it offsets that by cutting an equivalent amount of emissions.)

In a new story, MacKenzie Elmer examines the pledge and some issues when it comes to SDG&E’s current reporting of the renewable energy it provides. The company changed its website following questions from Elmer about why it was reporting that it provides 45 percent renewable energy. 

It’s hard to hold companies accountable for their greenhouse gas reductions plan if the public doesn’t know how much emissions those companies are currently responsible for. 

On that front, “nobody really knows what SDG&E’s [emissions] baseline is, not even the company itself,” Elmer writes.

Former Ambassador Stops Being Polite, Starts Getting Real

I think it’s safe to assume that as the United States’ ambassador to Mexico under President Donald Trump, Christopher Landau probably saw some shit.

Landau spoke quite candidly about his experience and about U.S.-Mexico relations on a call organized by the Council of American Ambassadors two weeks ago. A recording of the call was uploaded to YouTube and, as of Monday morning, amassed 2,000 views.

As Gustavo Solis writes in this week’s Border Report, “the video should be required viewing for anyone who follows U.S.-Mexico relations,” but in case you need an abridged version, Solis has you covered.

Landau talked at length about cartels, drug violence and trade, but environmental issues never came up on the call, to the chagrin of Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina, who’s been outspoken for years on the need to address cross-border sewage spills.

“Clearly we are expendable,” Dedina tweeted in response to the conversation. “This is why the United States government has been and is ignoring the Tijuana sewage crisis.”

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Sara Libby, and edited by Scott Lewis.

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