Internal documents help shatter secrecy at Grant County Rescue Mission

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MARION, Ind. (WTHR) — On a sunny morning on Gallatin Street, in the heart of downtown Marion, the feeling outside the Grant County Rescue Mission could not be more gloomy.

Two delivery trucks that are usually on the road, picking up donated items from the public, sit parked. Residents at the rescue mission, who are required to work for the charity at least five days a week to earn their room and board, stand near the front entrance of the homeless mission, discussing the recent downturn in donations that leaves them bored.

"There's nothing. It's a seriously, drastic drop," said Eric, a rescue mission resident who works on one of the delivery trucks. "The [thrift] stores are scrambling for stuff. Nobody trusts the organization now."

The trust disappeared four weeks ago, when 13 Investigates exposed longstanding problems at the homeless shelter that had been kept secret for many years.

The undercover investigation showed truckloads of food donated for the homeless were instead being taken by the charity's leaders for their family and friends. It showed significant health and safety concerns inside the homeless shelter, where a massive infestation of bedbugs chewed nightly on homeless residents. Health inspectors found living and storage areas were filthy. And feces and urine from cats and mice contaminated a mountain of donated food and household items that had been neglected for years, requiring thousands of pounds of public donations to be destroyed by the truckload.

The lobby of the charity now sits quiet just before lunchtime.

The receptionist (another mission resident) explains there are no administrators in the building. The executive director resigned two days earlier. His wife and daughter – also on the administrative payroll – are not in. The homeless shelter director is at a medical appointment.

It looks like a ghost town, except for a few residents who approach me and my cameraman to talk.

"I've never seen it like this. It's pretty bad right now after people saw what's been happening around here," said one of the homeless shelter residents, pointing out that meals are more uncertain since businesses like Walmart and Little Caesars stopped their donations of food.

A rescue mission supervisor runs into the lobby, tells the men they are needed "right away," then disappears into a back hallway of the massive brick building. The message is clear: don't say anything. The residents raise their eyebrows, shrug their shoulders and wave goodbye.

Not far away, the St. Martin Community Center is also preparing for lunchtime.

St. Martin sits only a half mile away from the Grant County Rescue Mission.

But the mood and management style at these two local charities are worlds apart, and the differences highlight why the rescue mission continues to alienate the public, even as it strategizes to regain trust.

"Just being selfish"

“There's not enough food for the families of Grant County”

St. Martin is bustling. It is one of the largest food banks in the state, providing free food to thousands of families each month. It serves lunch daily to a loyal and appreciative crowd of Grant County residents who are down on their luck.

And it serves up more than food.

"They help me a lot. They try to help anybody and everybody they can," explained James, a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who eats lunch at the community center. Staff and volunteers at St. Martin helped James find treatment and counseling. "Without this place, I'd probably be in a gutter somewhere," he said.

Ralph Viers, whose wife is recovering from breast cancer, is grateful for St. Martin, too. "Me and my wife wouldn't have no place to go. This place made us feel like home again. They treated us real nice, helped out in getting me a place to live. And they got me and my wife to her doctor's appointments."

"We can always serve a meal, and if you come in and really need something, we'll find a way to get it for you," said Ed Jewel, a longtime volunteer at St. Martin.

But the community center is in need, as well. Recent times have not been kind to its food pantry.

During the first four months of 2015, St. Martin's food pantry served 4,455 families. During the same period this year, that number has dropped to 2,950. That's down 34%. The charity's director says the amount of food being donated to help the needy has declined dramatically.

"There's not enough food for the families of Grant County," said St. Martin executive director Teresa Campbell. "We're one of the most food insecure counties of [Indiana's] 92 counties. We just don't have enough coming in to meet the need."

That's why Campbell was outraged to see WTHR's investigation about the Grant County Rescue Mission. She was especially angry to see that GCRM board president Tom Mansbarger had been intercepting truckloads of food intended for the homeless mission and taking them to his home and to the church where he serves as head pastor. And Campbell was shocked to see that GCRM executive director Tom Ballard was taking pizzas donated to the rescue mission to feed his Rottweilers and the large fish in his backyard pond.

Undercover cameras caught donations being unloaded at Tom Mansbarger's house.

Both men offered explanations. Ballard said he regularly took home the pizzas because they were freezer burned after spending weeks in the rescue mission's freezers. Mansbarger told WTHR he took food to his home and church because "it's there to take," and that he was the last resort to take perishable food before it spoiled. Both of them said the rescue mission receives more food than it can use and store and, therefore, they were forced to find other ways to get rid of it. Ballard said he approved the food going to Mansbarger's Grace Community Church because "it has a food pantry to distribute food to the community."

13 Investigates found their stories did not always add up. When WTHR called Grace Community Church to inquire about its food pantry, the longtime secretary said the church does not have one. Eyewitness News undercover video showed much of the donated food taken by Mansbarger was not perishable. And even if it were, Campbell said her organization – which served more than 82,000 meals and provided food to more than 25,000 people last year – could have easily used the donations.

"I never got a call from the rescue mission saying 'Teresa, we have extra cereal or we have Walmart Distribution food. Would you guys use any of it?'" she said. "I was sickened to see what they did. To say they're taking food for themselves because they can't find other places to take it isn't true. Never. Never. That's not true. They weren't trying. There's a lot of people who need that food, and they know right where we are. To me, that's just being selfish."

Mansbarger actually referenced St. Martin's food pantry during his interview with WTHR. "You can go over to St. Martin and find food sitting out in the parking lot for anyone to take. You can take it and so can I, no questions asked," he said. "It's all donated. So what's the difference between that and me taking some food to my house? We're the last line in the food chain if there's food [the rescue mission] can't get rid of."

More silence

Rev. Tom Ballard - Grant County Rescue MissionRev. Tom Ballard spoke to 13 Investigates during a tour of Grant County Rescue Mission

Donors did see a difference. When donations came to a sudden stop following WTHR's investigation, it sent a clear message to the charity's leadership. Ballard, Mansbarger and two other board members resigned, and Marion's mayor issued a challenge to the rest of the board.

"I really encourage them to be transparent and let themselves be held accountable," said mayor Jess Alumbaugh. "People expect transparency and accountability, and that's how you rebuild trust."

But that has not yet happened.

Despite releasing a statement last week that pledged more transparency, board members have been silent. They won't even say who is now running the rescue mission's day-to-day operations.

Eyewitness News has reached out to six GCRM board members in the past two weeks. Three of them have not returned WTHR's phone calls. The others will say only "no comment."

And for the past month, 13 Investigates has repeatedly asked the Grant County Rescue Mission to provide access to basic information, such as tax returns, salaries, minutes of board meetings and monthly financial statements. The Internal Revenue Service requires non-profit charities to make some of those documents available to the public upon request. Other information is not subject to mandated release, but is often released anyway by charities that rely on public donations. WTHR's requests have been made in-person, during phone conversations, via phone voicemail and delivered in writing. WTHR has not received a response to any of the requests.

St. Martin operates much differently.

Asked if her charity is willing to release financial records, Campbell immediately opened her file cabinet.

"Right here is our tax information. Over here, I'm collecting the receipts for all our bills I write out. That's our budget, our expenses, this is our revenues … and right here is my salary and everybody else's salary who works here," the director said, paging through monthly financial statements that she provided to Eyewitness News. "I will get you in contact with our CPA (certified public accountant). I'll set up a meeting if you want to."

Within moments of asking, all of St. Martin's books were literally open for inspection.

The Grant County Rescue Mission has opted for secrecy, which leaves many unanswered questions about the $7 million in public support the charity has received over the past decade – a figure WTHR obtained from GCRM tax forms obtained through online sources.

"I wonder where that money's at," said Campbell.

"Where is it going? What are they doing with the money?" echoed Peggy Bradley, a GCRM donor and county health inspector who mandated the charity clean up its facility earlier this year.

"It really causes you to question some things and the alarm bells start to ring," agreed the mayor.

Internal documents show executive perks

The Grant County Rescue Mission website says $2.05 will provide someone with a hot meal.

Several donors who spoke to WTHR said they contribute cash to the charity to help feed the homeless, and they mentioned the rescue mission's billboard and online advertising which states $2.05 will provide a hot meal to someone who is homeless.

But that $2.05 is not what the rescue mission spends on meals because nearly all the food served there comes to the charity free of charge.

"It's all donated from businesses, corporations and individuals in Grant County to help us do what we do," Ballard told 13 Investigates last month, adding that the rescue mission provides 70,000 meals per year while purchasing very little food. "We buy a few odds and ends: butter, sugar, things like that," he said. "The rest is donated. I'm really never concerned about food. There's always food that God gives to us."

Then asked to clarify the $2.05 figure that's advertised to potential donors, Ballard said the statistic was provided by a national organization, and he acknowledged the vast majority of money raised by the organization goes to pay for other areas of the rescue mission's operations.

"It just goes to pay the bills of our staff. It goes to do the things we do to help people stay here for free," Ballard told WTHR.

While the rescue mission has repeatedly declined to provide 13 Investigates with more details about its expenses, Eyewitness News has obtained internal financial statements provided to board members. Those statements provide more clarity about the charity's expenses. They also raise more questions about how the rescue mission is spending its money and the numbers it has reported to the IRS.

For example, GCRM's annual tax filings state the charity pays its executive director $0.

But monthly financial statements secured by WTHR show in 2014, the rescue mission paid its administrative staff salaries and benefits totaling more than a quarter million dollars.

The administrative staff includes Tom Ballard, his wife Debra who serves as GCRM development director, and two administrative assistants, including Ballard's daughter Vanessa.

Their exact salaries are not broken down, but among the $266,548 in total compensation, GCRM financial documents show Tom Ballard received an $18,000 housing allowance, $7,800 more for a car allowance and $2,250 for a cell phone.

Sources with inside knowledge of the organization’s finances told Eyewitness News Tom Ballard is the only person approved to receive a car allowance from the GCRM.

That same year, the Rescue Mission spent $52,288 more than it brought in, according to the charity's internal records.

But the numbers reported to the IRS appear to be very different.

Questionable numbers

The GCRM board saw 2014 year-end numbers that reflected income of $764,041 and expenses totaling $816,329.

The income reported to the IRS that year was $1,013,377 with expenses of $600,340.

There could be a reasonable explanation to justify the figures reported to the board and to the IRS being hundreds of thousands of dollars off. But if there is, no one at the rescue mission is willing to discuss it.

Treasurer Janet Pearson, who serves as Marion's assistant director of city development, sent a message through the mayor's office that she has no comment for WTHR.

Bobbie Orr, a real estate agent who serves as the charity's treasurer, and GCRM vice president Dale Dorothy both told Eyewitness News they would not say anything beyond the board's previously-released statement, which does not address the homeless shelter's finances.

And former board president Tom Mansbarger told WTHR last month that he spent little time reviewing the board's income, expenses and financial reporting.

"I'm not into the finances. That's not my area," he said.

"I don't understand that," said Campbell, meeting with WTHR at her office inside the St. Martin Community Center. "The board is in place to keep the director honest. They are supposed to monitor things very closely: looking at numbers, where money is coming in, where money is going out. It takes a lot of hard work to make sure you can tell where the money is going. If they're not willing to do that, then there needs to be a cleanup of the board. They need to be replaced with people who will ask questions."

The rescue mission's most recent filings with the IRS show all board members were not provided a copy of the tax returns to review them before they were filed, that the organization's financial statements were not compiled or reviewed by an independent accountant, that there was no independent review or approval of the executive director's compensation, and that there was no independent audit conducted on the charity's finances and policies.

“It looks like they're trying to hide something”

Detailed income and expenses for some fundraising events, such as the rescue mission's annual Walk-A-Mile fundraiser, do not appear on some of the charity's IRS filings. Other important information is also missing from the rescue mission's tax forms, according to the one of the nation's most respected charity watchdogs.

"It's an outrage that they're not reporting any in-kind donations to the IRS. It looks like they're trying to hide something," said Daniel Borochoff, president of Chicago-based CharityWatch. "They're not saying they received any goods or gave out any goods. Their tax form is totally lacking and ridiculous because it doesn't reflect what's really happening in the organization. It's really shoddy and incomplete reporting."

"This is a tough situation. It has to be improved, obviously. I'd advise them to be as transparent as possible," reiterated the mayor. "Let's fix this and make it right. I'm hoping they can turn things around."

In the meantime, the mayor is urging Marion residents to continue their charitable giving to help the homeless and hungry in Grant County – whether that be supporting the rescue mission, the St. Martin food bank or other organizations that assist the needy.

"It's a rough time for them right now. They really need our help," he said.