The executive director of Philadelphia Safety Net says a federal audit published last week is mistaken on several points, and claims he did not misuse more than two-thirds of the approximately $800,000 he received in federal grants.
"It's not as exciting and dramatic as the DOJ (U.S. Department of Justice) would lead you to believe," Raymond Jones, of Philadelphia Safety Net, said today. "Misuse is different from some kind of criminal allegation. But it gives the perception that there was a lot more amiss than what it was. It's really a process issue."
Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice's Inspector General released an audit stating that it is auditing Jones for "misuse" of part of about $800,000 in federal grants he received for his "Philadelphia Safety Net" program, which operated gun buy-back events and other programs.
Between 2010 and 2012, Jones received funds from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program.
The DOJ now says that about 62 percent, or $479,183, of the money was used for “unallowable” or “unreasonable” expenses.
On Tuesday, State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-8th dist.) released a statement calling the allegations “disturbing.”
“Philadelphia Safety Net’s ‘Goods for Guns’ program has made a difference in the safety of the community, but learning that much more of the money could have helped to remove hundreds of other guns from Philly’s streets is tragic,” Sen. Williams said in his statement. “Part of my violence reduction initiatives agenda has been to buy back guns. We’ve accomplished a lot in this area. It saddens me to learn we could have accomplished more.”
Sen. Williams stood with Jones in December 2011 at a press conference announcing one of Philadelphia Safety Net’s gun buy-backs.
“It’s unfortunate that the senator, with all due respect, doesn’t have the full picture,” Jones responded.
The audit deemed the expenditure of about $36,300 on gift cards for gun buy-backs inappropriate.
In these gun buy-back programs, Jones accepted guns from members of the public in exchange for $100 Shop Rite gift cards.
The audit states that approximately 280 of these cards – worth $28,000 – were not exchanged for collected guns. Eighty-three of the cards are still in Jones’ possession.
“People showed up with guns; it may have been a starter pistol or something or other,” Jones said. “Have you ever looked in the face of someone who needs $100 to feed their families? You do that, over the years, you give away some gift cards where people might say, ‘Well, this wasn’t a real gun.’ This is out of hundreds and hundreds of gift cards.”
But Jones said he is respectful of the DOJ’s audit and will work to address the issues they raised.
“I’m not trying to demonize the DOJ,” Jones said. “They have some legitimate points; it was an issue of process and regulations. I missed some things and some things I didn’t miss. But it was never an attempt to not follow the rules.”
The DOJ’s audit alleges, among other charges, that Jones wrongfully paid himself a salary of $346,394.
Jones said that amount was paid over four years, and that he gave himself a raise every year as his responsibilities mounted, which he maintains was appropriate.
“If you look at it in terms of my position or positions and given the budget we had, raising my salary was in accordance with any private industry where someone had the same kinds of responsibilities,” Jones said. “They’re welcome to disagree with that. They’re just doing their job.”
The DOJ also claimed that Jones wrongfully paid $43,697 in rent and utilities for a building which they say was only open one day a month.
Jones countered that while the facility, a satellite office in Northwest Philadelphia, was open once a month for senior events for safety education events, it was used during the rest of the month for planning and meetings.
The audit also mentions Jones’ consultant expenditures, which totaled $52,792, as inappropriate, which Jones denies.
Jones said he will continue to work with federal authorities to resolve the questions raised in the audit and said he is certain that he did not violate the rules of his office.
“I’m pleased with what we’ve been able to accomplish. We’ve been able to help a lot of people,” Jones said. “We’ve taken over 5,000 guns off the streets.”