DA finds no crime in Growing Food Forward probe
This is the text of a news release from Ninth District Attorney Sherry Caloia:
“The 9th Judicial District Attorney conducted an investigation of the financial management of the nonprofit organization Growing Food Forward at the request of the Board of Directors. The books and records of the organization along with the bank statements, emails, expenditures, bank records and other documents of the organization and its sole independent contractor, Kim Wille, were obtained and evaluated over the last several weeks. Key people were also interviewed.
“GFF is a very new nonprofit organization with a volunteer board and one independent contractor. While the ideas and plans of the organization are meritorious the daily challenges of keeping organized books and records of transactions can be difficult for people who have not done this before. We did have to sort through a number of transactions (with only receipts and statements) that were not appropriately documented and accounted for. However we did not find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. There was no evidence that GFF funds were used for the private benefit of Kim Wille. This is with the exception of a few transactions that we labeled as questionable. However these transactions are not of the amount or caliber that would lead to the filing of criminal charges.
“As with all corporations and nonprofit corporations GFF should undertake the reconciliation of its bank accounts and transactions so that it has a procedure to more easily check how its funds are being acquired and spent. This can be costly to a small nonprofit but is an important step to effectively running an organization.”
An examination of Growing Food Forward finances found no evidence that Director Kim Wille used money from the organization for her private benefit, 9th Judicial District Attorney Sherry Caloia announced Friday.
The office conducted the investigation at the request of the GFF Board of Directors, which suspended Wille this spring.
The organization promotes getting fresh produce to people in Garfield County who are in need, through community gardens and other programs to share and distribute fresh food.
Over the past several weeks, the DA reviewed the nonprofit’s books and records, along with the bank statements, emails, expenditures and other documents, according to a press release. Key people were also interviewed, Caloia said.
The investigation turned up a few questionable transactions, but they were not of the amount or caliber that would lead to the filing of criminal charges.
“While the ideas and plans of the organization are meritorious, the daily challenges of keeping organized books and records of transactions can be difficult for people who have not done this before,” the press release stated. “We did have to sort through a number of transactions (with only receipts and statements) that were not appropriately documented and accounted for. However we did not find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing.”
Growing Food Forward plans on releasing a statement Wednesday, Board President Andrea Matthews said in an email. Wille could not be reached for comment after Caloia’s announcement was made public.
In a Facebook post, Wille expressed relief. “I want to thank all of you who hung by me during this unwarranted debacle,” she wrote. “I had nothing to hide, knew I would be vindicated, and am so very grateful to those of you who believe in me and gave such great support and actions.”
With a few exceptions, both the board and Wille have mostly remained quiet since her suspension became public in early April. In her capacity representing Growing Food Forward, Wille has received extensive media coverage, including in the Post Independent. Her suspension struck a chord with some in the community, leading to the creation of the “Keep Kim Growing Forward” Facebook page.
In late April, GFF Vice President Anita Sherman shared some of the board’s concerns in a heated exchange on the “Keep Kim Growing Forward” Facebook page: “… it’s generally frowned upon practice for executive directors to deposit grant checks into accounts not authorized by the board, or write checks to themselves for cash.”
Caloia recommended GFF reconcile its bank accounts and transactions to ensure greater accountability of how its money is acquired and spent in the future.
The organization was recently awarded $5,000 from LiveWell Garfield County to cover capital expenses for gardens and countywide workshops. It has strong affiliations in the Roaring Fork and Colorado river valleys. With volunteer help, it distributes non-GMO heirloom seeds, tends numerous gardens, and delivers food to clients, pantries and distribution points. As executive director, Wille was compensated $30,000 in the organization’s first year as an official nonprofit corporation, according to the organization’s application for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. The application was approved in November 2014.
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Rick Holt, chief academic officer for the Roaring Fork School District and a former Carbondale Middle School principal, will be leaving to become superintendent of schools in the Archuleta County School District.