The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) says a scandal-scarred violence interrupter nonprofit that holds millions of dollars in city contracts has cleaned up its act by fulfilling the requirements of a “corrective action plan” (CAP) it entered into in 2019, following findings from the city Department of Investigation (DOI) of financial impropriety and nepotism at the organization.
In an interview with PoliticsNY, MOCJ laid out the areas in which they feel the nonprofit – Man Up Inc. – has surpassed its mandate to implement a series of changes to its financial management and organizational structure prescribed by the CAP, a document that was shared exclusively with PoliticsNY. The five-year plan took effect in August 2019.
Man Up’s Founder and Executive Director Andre T. Mitchell also spoke with PoliticsNY about the positive changes he says the CAP facilitated at Man UP, labeling the plan a “blessing in disguise” for the embattled violence-interruptor group.
“It has been something that we have never ran away from: always being better at making our organization better,” Mitchell said. “So we actually look at this CAP as a compliment to us in reference to us becoming a better nonprofit and better administrators and better service providers.”
Man Up had reportedly won nearly $20 million in city contracts from MOCJ to conduct on-the-ground violence interrupter work on behalf of the city since 2017 – under then-Mayor Bill de Blasio. Further solidifying the nonprofit’s central role in combating the scourge of gun violence in the five boroughs, the current mayor – Eric Adams – appointed Mitchell co-chair of a city task force aimed at tackling the issue this past June.
According to reporting by the news website The City, following a 2019 probe, DOI found that Man Up may have violated its contract with DOCJ due to financial malfeasance and nepotism at the organization. The city investigation department’s findings included $15,000 in proceeds from a youth employment program run by Man Up winding up in Mitchell’s personal bank account. Although Mitchell told investigators he didn’t know the money was there until he was subpoenaed.
Moreover, DOI discovered that Mitchell hired family members including his son, daughter and half-brother, without asking MOCJ’s consent to put them on the nonprofit’s payroll, in explicit violation of the group’s contract with the city. However, Mitchell said they were already employed before Man Up got the MOCJ contract and he didn’t know he was required to disclose their familial relationship to the city.
None of those family members are still on Man Up’s payroll, Mitchell said.
Mitchell attributed Man Up’s unsavory financial practices and failure to properly disclose his hiring of family members to his lack of knowledge on how to properly manage a nonprofit when he first founded the organization in 2003, following the death of an 8-year-old boy named Deasean Hill in East New York, Brooklyn.
“We were a young grassroots organization,” Mitchell said. “We’re based out of East New York, Brooklyn, that’s where we founded ourselves, where all of the resources and all the knowledge and information as to how to run nonprofits was not something that I had access to. I got into this without any real prior education and knowledge of how to run a nonprofit.”
DOCJ entered into the corrective action plan with Man Up, following a recommendation from the DOI inspector general in 2019, as a way to clean up issues with the organization’s financials and leadership structure identified in the investigation department’s probe. A representative with MOCJ, who spoke with PoliticsNY, said it was clear from the beginning of the CAP implementation process that Man Up was committed to making the necessary financial and structural changes laid out in the plan.
“From the beginning, Man UP has been not only collaborative, but taken steps to do things to strengthen the muscle that is its organization and to build further fiscal and operational checks and balances and support into its operations, which was really a key component and really a goal for the corrective action plan,” the MOCJ representative said.
In a statement to PoliticsNY, DOI spokesperson Diane Struzzi said MOCJ had given the investigation department proof that it had “accepted and implemented” DOI’s recommendations for fixing the issues at Man Up.
“As our public database states, MOCJ provided DOI with information showing the agency had accepted and implemented the recommendations we made to them regarding Man Up.”
The CAP, which was reviewed by PoliticsNY, mandated Man Up develop a “manual of fiscal policies and procedures” – or fiscal manual – to submit to the city, review its conflict of interest policy to ensure it’s in compliance with state and city law, create a “corporate governance plan,” implement a new computerized accounting system and several other changes to how the nonprofit is run.
According to the MOCJ representative, Man Up successfully put in place many of the changes required by the action plan partially because the group hired NCheng LLP as a fiscal agent – a third-party company that organizations can bring on to help run their back office more efficiently – in early 2020. NCheng, the representative from MOCJ said, has also been essential to helping Man Up with its day-to-day operations by pitching in with drafting organizational governance documents and budgeting.
When it comes to implementing the action plan, the MOCJ representative said, NCheng was key in creating a fiscal manual for Man Up. That 40 to 50 document contains essential policies for the organization’s purchasing, expenses and cash management.
Separately, the fiscal agent also assisted Man Up with crafting a new conflict of interest policy, the MOCJ representative said, which was approved by the organization’s board. Mitchell said he still has three family members on the payroll: his brother, cousin and younger son – however, that’s not his son who had previously worked for the nonprofit and been let go.
“Today, we follow the proper procedure and we go about doing the work that basically needs to happen,” Mitchell said. “Our people are qualified. As long as they’re qualified, as long as they are committed to do the work. They’re not supervised by me directly.”
They also helped the executive team and board assemble a new corporate governance plan – a document that lays out the responsibilities of both the board and executive staff as well as internal corporate protocol. Part of that effort was hiring Rhonda Gittens as the nonprofit’s new chief financial officer.
Finally, NCheng fully computerized Man Up’s accounting system to better track its finances.
The DOCJ representative said Man Up putting all of the new financial and organizational checks – mandated by the CAP – in place, means it’s very unlikely that the organization will repeat its past improprieties.
“The goal of a CAP is to support corrective action and ensure it happens,” the DOCJ representative said. “And the checks and balances that Man Up has put in place has gotten it to the point where I don’t foresee those things happening again.”
“They have a conflict of interest policy,” the representative continued. “They have a fiscal manual in place that they work from. They have a fiscal agent. They have a chief financial officer. They have a cash disbursement policy in the fiscal manual. So, those are the necessary supports that have been engaged and developed to prevent that from happening again.”