Chicago community organizer has roots and clout dating to 1960s but current issues hang over his multimillion-dollar empire
The Rev. Leon Finney Jr. is a noted community organizer on Chicago’s South Side, and some of his related multimillion-dollar business operations are under scrutiny. (Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune / December 9, 2011)
The community group he came to lead, The Woodlawn Organization, became a national model as Finney built a network of social programs and gained control of millions of dollars in publicly funded development.
But now Finney’s business dealings are being questioned on a number of fronts.
Federal housing authorities are investigating allegations that the Gary Housing Authority was overbilled by $850,000 for payroll expenses related to public housing projects managed by the Woodlawn Community Development Corp., where Finney is chief executive.
A federal lawsuit filed by Finney’s former chief financial officer alleges a host of financial improprieties, from ghost payrolling to the use of government money for Finney’s private pursuits, including a family-owned restaurant.
In addition, government-mandated audits, court records and other documents obtained by the Tribune show:
•A federal housing consultant lived in a Woodlawn apartment owned by a company run by Finney while in charge of monitoring property management contract awards in Gary. During that time several contracts went to the Woodlawn Development Corp. Court records show the consultant failed to pay $17,000 in rent on the apartment.
•In several instances, government subsidies awarded to one low-income housing development were used to pay the utility bills and other expenses of unrelated properties, a violation of federal rules governing those funds.
•The Woodlawn Organization, headed by Finney’s wife, Georgette Greenlee Finney, spent $132,000 to lease office space from a real estate company owned by Finney, a 2008 audit shows.
Finney, 73, declined to comment on the Gary investigation, as well as most of the allegations made in the federal lawsuit filed by his former chief financial officer, Virgil Savage. His attorney, Devlin Schoop, also declined to comment.
However, Finney acknowledged financial problems at The Woodlawn Organization and its network of nonprofits and property management companies, which have been sued for a host of unpaid bills.
That has led to a scramble to “keep it all together” by shifting money from one organization’s bank account to another’s in an effort to pay bills, Finney said.
Finney’s network of organizations and companies runs seven social services programs and manages or owns roughly 5,000 subsidized apartments in Illinois and northwest Indiana.
“When you have no stockholders to go to get an additional capital infusion, in an effort to try to keep it all working, in instances you borrow from one property to another in order to keep the whole working and you hope that in the interim you can pay it back,” he said.
But, Finney insisted, “No money has gone into my pocket or anybody’s pocket.”
Attorneys with the Gary Housing Authority confirmed the agency is cooperating with an investigation by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD officials declined to comment.
Gary housing officials said the investigation is largely based on allegations made by Savage, who in 2010 was fired as chief financial officer for The Woodlawn Organization and its affiliated entities after about 2 1/2 years.
In his lawsuit, filed last winter, Savage, 53, claims he was fired shortly after he sent an internal memo to the organization’s board members that accused Finney of using money budgeted for federally subsidized properties for his personal benefit and to pay employees of Finney’s church.
“That’s when our relationship began to sour,” Savage said.
Source: Chicago Tribune