Documents Reveal AVCP Misappropriated Grant Funds for Years

by Lakeidra Chavis on January 8, 2016

Association of Village Council Presidents' 51st Annual Conference. (Dean

Association of Village Council Presidents’ 51st Annual Conference. (Dean Swope/ KYUK)

In late December, the Association of Village Council Presidents laid off 30 employees. AVCP has made no official statement about why the layoffs occurred, but documents obtained by KYUK illustrate misappropriation of federal grant dollars spanning nearly a decade.

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The week before Christmas the Association of Village Council Presidents abruptly laid off 30 employees— about seven percent of their workforce.

In a press release, AVCP cited current economic trends.

But, confidential documents obtained by KYUK through a former AVCP employee illustrate years of mishandling of grants to fund administrative salaries and workforce programs.

The money is from AVCP’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund, or TANF. TANF is a federal program under the Dept. of Health and Human Services, aimed at helping economically disadvantaged families.

Email transcripts from 2008 show then-AVCP grants compliance officer, Hansel Mathlaw, raising concerns after a financial report revealed 25-percent of AVCP’s Social Services Director Pat Samson’s salary was being paid with TANF funds.

Samson didn’t work for the TANF program, but then-AVCP Vice President Zach Brink responded to Mathlaw’s email saying, “he [Pat Samson] has done a lot of tanf [sic] work.”

Email correspondence regarding Pat Samson's salary.

Email correspondence regarding Pat Samson’s salary.

Documents indicate Samson’s salary was more than $96,000 at the time.

Samson left AVCP a few years ago, citing exhaustion. He worked for the department for more than two decades.

“I did not work for any TANF programs,” Samson said, adding he wasn’t aware that’s how his salary was paid for.

Then, in 2009, AVCP President Myron Naneng and the nonprofit’s senior chairperson formally requested the organization use up to “$500,000 each year in TANF funds to sustain” the corporation’s aircraft maintenance and flight school.

Former AVCP TANF director Jolene Geerhart, says the request was denied by a federal agent.

But, between 2010 and 2011 at least three checks totaling $250,000 each went from the AVCP TANF account to fund the flight school.

Minutes from a 2010 board meeting show that John Amik, the flight school’s director, asked the board for the funds. According to minutes, he said the money “would allow funding to be spent and not returned to the Federal Government. This falls in line with the Economic Development requirement under this grant.”

Minutes from 2010 AVCP executive board meeting.

Minutes from 2010 AVCP executive board meeting.

In 2010, Larry Barnes, then-AVCP vice president of finance, wrote in an email that the “federal TANF agency has reimbursed AVCP for the funds, and that the monies will cover operational costs that student revenue won’t cover.”

But, federal directors repeatedly told AVCP administrators that TANF monies couldn’t be used to fund the school’s operating costs.

Screenshot of email transcript regarding appropriate uses of federal TANF money, sent from former Tribal TANF Region X Program Specialist Judy Ogliore to former AVCP Director Lynn Kassman, and later forwarded to Jolene Geerhart.

Screenshot of email transcript regarding appropriate uses of federal TANF money, sent from former Tribal TANF Region X Program Specialist Judy Ogliore to former AVCP Director Lynn Kassman, and later forwarded to Jolene Geerhart.

Geerhart was the AVCP TANF program director from 2010-2013. She says during her time at least two of these checks were signed.

“There were checks that [were] made out, but I didn’t authorize those monies,” Geerhart said.”

Geerhart says she started digging into previous years, and estimates the amount of TANF money used to fund the flight school is much higher than $750,000.

“What I found,” she said, “it was a little more than a million dollars while I was the director. It was $500,000 total two separate times.”

In mid-2011 AVCP grants compliance officer, Hansel Mathlaw, raised concerns about the use of TANF child support money. Larry Barnes, then-AVCP Vice President of Finance, addressed Mathlaw’s concerns, writing, “unspent child support funding was deemed unrestricted funding, because there were no reporting requirements tied to prior year funds.”

It’s unclear what AVCP used the funds for, but Geerhart says unused federal TANF funds rollover; they don’t just become a free-for-all. State TANF funds don’t rollover either, and if not used, have to be returned.

Geerhart says it’s hard to misuse federal TANF grant money–there is extensive training, and even annual conferences directors can attend.

“I’m pretty sure the past director and deputy director would’ve advised them [of] the correct use of TANF monies,” Geerhart said. “The TANF program has been with AVCP since 2000, or shortly before that.”

During that same month, Naneng awarded the TANF department the, ‘Department of the Year Award.’

As the director of AVCP’s TANF program Geerhart says she repeatedly raised concerns about the use of TANF monies to her superiors, Naneng and AVCP Vice President Mike Hoffman. In one particular meeting with Naneng, Geerheart says he dismissed her concerns.

“I really didn’t appreciate that kind of response, because my concerns, to me, were really important misuse of TANF monies,” she said.

On a different occasion, she says she was asked to resubmit the letter Naneng sent to TANF in 2009. When a federal TANF representative told her the funds couldn’t be used to cover flight school operating costs, she applied for funds to cover school tuition for TANF-eligible students.

Email transcripts show that this is allowed, but Geerhart says when she looked over the paperwork, the number of TANF eligible students in the program compared to the amount of TANF funds taken didn’t match up.

Geerhart was fired from AVCP in early 2013. She says her supervisor, Hoffman, told her it was due to insubordination.

AVCP Vice President Mike Hoffman. (Photo courtesy-  Cold Climate Housing Research Center)

AVCP Vice President Mike Hoffman. (Photo courtesy of Cold Climate Housing Research Center)

“I continued to let my supervisor know these are inappropriate uses and it needs to stop,” Geerhart said, ” and I believe I was terminated because I didn’t stop and keep my mouth quiet and walk away and let it continue to happen.”

Later that year, the flight school, which had been open for about a decade, shut down due to what Naneng described as “diminished federal funding and high operational costs.

A spokesman from the federal TANF departments says they are currently not investigating AVCP regarding the misuse of funds and did not respond to any further questions.

AVCP's Myron Naneng addresses the panel at the Chinook Symposium in Anchorage.

AVCP’s Myron Naneng addresses the panel at the Chinook Symposium in Anchorage. (KYUK Photo File)

After more than a dozen interview requests, Naneng declined to comment and referred all questions to Hoffman. Hoffman declined to comment as well.

Now, less than a year after Naneng’s reelection as AVCP president, leaders of four Unit 4 village tribes-Akiak, Akiakchak, Kwethluk and Tuluksak, are calling for a special meeting ahead of the annual conference, an investigation into AVCP and for the organization’s top directors to be placed on administrative leave.

Mike Williams is the leader of the Yupiit Nation, and helped draft the resolution.

“They need more explanation rather than [saying it’s] because of economic conditions,” Williams said. He says tribes just want to see the region working together.

If there’s no response from AVCP by Jan. 15, the proposed resolution calls for Naneng’s resignation.

Williams says tribal leaders who filed the resolution are still waiting to hear back.

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Editor’s note (1/8/2016, 3:15 p.m.) A portion of this story was removed. “In December of 2011, email transcripts show the corporation had to pay back nearly $250,000 to the federal TANF office for misappropriating the TANF funds to the flight school.” We did not feel we could adequately explain the process but would still like this information be available to readers.

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