United Way partner under investigation

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A popular educational progam affiliated with the United Way of West Georgia is under investigation for potential fraud and mismanagement of finances, according to the LaGrange Police Department.

A police report filed in November alleged an undetermined amount of money was taken from Troup Bell, a parents-as-teachers school readiness program supporting low-income families. The report also states numerous items including cell phones, laptops, credit cards, checks, tax documents and bank statements were seized by police as part of the investigation.

Patty Youngblood, executive director of the United Way, filed a police report in November 2014 concerning misuse of funds, according to LaGrange police detective William Nelson.

“There is an ongoing investigation, which consists of examining to see if there was a theft, who it involved and to the degree the funds were misused,” Nelson explained. “Patty (Youngblood) indicated discrepencies in billing and asked us to take a look into that.”

Youngblood said her organization is working with police in their investigation.

“We are the ones who notified the police as soon as we knew there was an inkling of a problem,” said Youngblood. “We are cooperating fully with with their investigation.”

According to the Nelson, that has involved detectives pouring over documents and affadavits from as far back as 2009.

The police report states that at least three credit cards seized from Troup Bell by police as part of their investigation were in Alfreda Hyman-Edmondson’s name, a former director of Troup Bell. Another card was issued to Platinum Essentials, an event and catering service in LaGrange that is owned by Hyman-Edmondson.

LPD detectives are focusing their investigation into Troup Bell on a time when Hyman-Edmondson was the director, but Nelson emphasized that does not mean the investigation is solely focused on her, nor is she a suspect in the thefts at this time.

Nelson said police are reviewing all financial records, talking with all employees associated with the organization and clients who may have received services from Troup Bell.

Nelson said as of right now, police have no idea if a theft occurred or how much money could have been taken from the program.

He also stated the investigation is solely focused on Troup Bell, and not the United Way agency as a whole.

According to Youngblood, Troup Bell is not entirely funded by the United Way, but is a partner program that the agency helps to find funding.

Nelson said the misplaced money may also include funding awarded to the Troup Bell program from federal, state, and local grants.

“The grantors have been made aware of the investigation. We’ve been in contact with them and have been transparent with them,” Youngblood said. “We’ve adjusted our budget and schedules and they’ve helped us. No one on the outside has noticed any drop of service.”

Youngblood said that Troup Bell has hired a new director.

Youngblood said Hyman-Edmondson was terminated from Troup Bell in November 2014, but declined to say why.

Hyman-Edmondson also confirmed she was dismissed from Troup Bell in November, but said she was never given a reason why.

“No one sat down and talked with me. No one told me what was going on or what they were looking for. It did shock me,” she said. “They fired me over the phone and advised me I was not to talk to anyone at Troup Bell.”

Hyman-Edmondson said she was the director of Troup Bell for six years and was always under the supervision of Youngblood. She also claimed she never managed any cash while working with the United Way program.

“If I was doing something wrong for six years, then I was under the supervision of them,” she said. “They sent police cars to my home and cars to my business (Platinum Essentials). They (detectives) weren’t asking about money, they were looking for paperwork.”

Nelson said it will take detectives some time to get through all the bank statements and affadavits before there could be sufficient evidence to press any charges, if they are warranted.

Youngblood said they have put the incident at the back of their minds for now and continue moving forward.

“The United Way is as strong as ever,” she said. “Troup Bell is still operating and we see families everyday. We are making a difference in a child’s life. We had a successful campaign in 2014 — we raised over $1 million. We went through the allocation process and funded 26 agencies. We still have a strong focus on early school readiness and we are ready for our next campaign.”