Funds cut off at center on west side Empower Baltimore acts, saying audit finds discrepancy of $1,974; The director resigns; Suspension of money follows 2nd incident at Self Motivated


Money has been cut off to a West Baltimore village center that is part of the multimillion-dollar empowerment zone -- and its director has resigned -- after an audit turned up a $1,974 payroll discrepancy.

The turmoil marks the second time in 14 months that financial questions have engulfed the Self Motivated Community People's Village Center, one of six neighborhood centers in Baltimore's $100 million revitalization project.

Each village center is supposed to guide local rebuilding under the federally funded undertaking in impoverished stretches of West Baltimore, around the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in East Baltimore and in Fairfield in South Baltimore.

After discovering the discrepancy, Empower Baltimore Management Corp., the parent organization, stopped all funds to the Self Motivated center this week.

Leonard Jackson Jr., the director who was briefly suspended last year on suspicion of pocketing a forged $6,500 check, has resigned, according to the corporation. Neither Jackson nor his lawyer could be reached yesterday.

Self Motivated, a bright spot in a decayed stretch of North Avenue that serves Sandtown-Winchester and the surrounding area, hung out a "closed" sign yesterday. It is supposed to reopen Monday, when auditors plan to return for a more extensive review.

"Until we clear up this issue, we can't do any continued business," said Diane Bell, president of Empower Baltimore.

The corporation had begun a routine, annual audit this week of the six village centers, all but one of which receive up to $200,000 in public money a year. The sixth, in East Baltimore, is larger and gets about $300,000 a year.

At Self Motivated, "there was a journal entry on the books that was questionable," said Steven M. Davis, Empower Baltimore's chief financial officer. "But we haven't finished our review. We're not exactly sure what improprieties, if any, there are."

The center promised to tighten financial controls last summer after several board members resigned and accused the director of financial irregularities.

Jackson disputed the charges, the most serious of which was that he forged the chairman's signature to obtain a $6,500 check. He argued he was paying himself a salary to which he was entitled, and the board reinstated him.

"I'm not surprised," Jennifer L. Coates, who resigned as vice chair last year, said yesterday. "We tried to tell them a year ago."

Ron Anderson, the treasurer, would not comment on the latest financial questions.

"I'm not at liberty to divulge any information, especially to the newspaper," he said.

The corporation wants the village centers to operate independently, Bell said. Each is supposed to have an independent audit and one by the corporation.

"We thought there was an oversight system in place," she said.

Pub Date: 9/20/97

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