An Open Letter to the Community from The Providence Plan

Richard R. Spies, Board Chair

In July 2016 the management and board of The Providence Plan, better known as ProvPlan, learned that we had been the victims of a major embezzlement by our then finance director, in an amount that we subsequently learned exceeded $700,000 stolen over several years.  For an organization that developed programs and supported activities largely on the basis of federal, state, and foundation grants and contracts and had worked hard over several years to build up a modest reserve fund, this was a devastating blow.

In responding to this revelation, the Board committed to a set of principles that have guided us throughout this ordeal and the planning that followed:

  • We would be completely transparent about what happened and how we were trying to deal with the damage with funders and other supporters of ProvPlan and our programs, as well as with law enforcement agencies at all levels;
  • We would do everything we could to repay all debts and to fully discharge all the many obligations we had taken on to funding and contracting agencies as well as to the community we had pledged to serve; and
  • We would do everything we could to ensure that the various programs we were responsible for would be able to continue to serve their missions and carry on the critically important work that they are all doing on behalf of the community.

The purpose of this open letter to the community is to report on what has been done and is being done to follow through on our commitment to those principles.

First, with the pro bono support of our long-time partners at Brown Rudnick as legal advisers and the engagement of a specially appointed forensic audit firm and in close coordination with state and federal authorities, the embezzlement crime has been thoroughly investigated and the extent and source of the theft determined with a high level of confidence on both our part and that of the authorities.  All funding agencies affected by the theft have been informed of these findings.  The perpetrator of the crime has been charged and is engaged in a plea bargaining process with the U.S. Attorney’s office.  The statement issued by the U.S. Attorney’s office last month specifically referenced the high degree of cooperation and support provided by ProvPlan and its legal advisers.

Second, we have fully reimbursed all our creditors, including one federal agency and one philanthropic foundation that were directly affected by the embezzlement.  We are pleased and proud to say that no vendor or other creditor has gone unpaid as a result of the embezzlement.  We greatly appreciate their patience and their willingness to continue to work with us during these stressful times, and we are pleased that their confidence in us was ultimately borne out as we are now fully up to date on all those commitments.Third, the most challenging aspect of the last 8 months has been the need to find ways for the four programs for which we were responsible to have suitable opportunities outside ProvPlan to continue to serve their missions and the community going forward, which would in each case include expanding their reach and effectiveness by soliciting new funding and developing new collaborations and partnerships.  Each of the programs presented its own challenges and opportunities, and each was complicated in its own way.  In the end, though, we believe we have succeeded in a way that not just allows all four programs to continue to exist but gives each a real chance to grow and serve the community at an even higher level in the future.  With only a few details left to work out, the four programs are now going forward in the following new forms:

  • Building Futures and Apprenticeship Rhode Island, under the leadership of Andrew Cortes and new board chair Greg Mancini, are now functioning as a stand-alone 501(c)3 non-profit organization serving the community by creating and managing apprenticeship programs in collaboration with the state and private companies and employee organizations across Rhode Island.
  • DataSpark, the data collection and analysis organization that has played a major role throughout the state in promoting and supporting evidence-based policy-making, is now an operating unit within the University of Rhode Island. Kim Pierson is the director of DataSpark and Karim Boughida is the Dean of University Libraries, and the two of them will be overseeing this important activity going forward.
  • Ready to Learn Providence, under the leadership of Leslie Gell, has recently become a part of the School of Continuing Studies at Roger Williams University, where Jamie Scurry is the Dean of the School and a long-time partner of Ready to Learn. With the strong support of the Roger Williams community and in close collaboration with the School of Continuing Studies, R2LP will continue to work towards their vision that all children will be healthy and ready to learn, and they look forward to new opportunities to serve young children, their families, and the early learning workforce.
  • YouthBuild, having recently received all the legislative permissions required to create an independent degree-granting secondary school academy, was already on its way to becoming a stand-alone 501(c)3 non-profit organization when the embezzlement was discovered. Despite losing administrative and fund-raising support that had been expected from ProvPlan, YouthBuild has been able to go forward with this effort on their own, led by executive director Anthony Hubbard and board chair Angela Romans.  With this leadership in place, we are optimistic that the program will be able to meet its goal of opening YouthBuild Preparatory Academy in the fall

None of the paths to these new homes has been smooth or easy, and we all look back and think of things we could have done differently along the way.  At the same time, to the best of our ability to predict, all four programs are now well-positioned for future success.

Obviously, none of the good news contained in this report would have or could have been achieved without the very hard work and commitment of a great many people and organizations.  At the risk of leaving out many essential supporters, I would cite first and foremost the ProvPlan staff, past and present, who created these programs and instilled the culture of service to the community that motivated all of us to work hard to preserve the value of their current efforts and their aspirations for even greater service in the future..  In that same spirit, I want also to acknowledge the many contributions of my colleagues on the ProvPlan board, again including past board members as well as current members.

On behalf of the board, I want to offer our most sincere thanks to our colleagues at Brown Rudnick, who provided invaluable legal support and wise counsel throughout this long and challenging process.  Ed Pare has been our long-time counsel on a pro bono basis, and – in a gesture he probably regrets at this point – he brought in several of his partners and associates on a similar pro bono basis. Similarly, Andy Hodgkin – a former Brown Rudnick partner and former ProvPlan board member – also pitched in on a pro bono basis at several key points in this process.

I also want to thank the Governor for her leadership and for the extraordinary efforts of her staff in the many state departments and agencies that provide funds and other support for ProvPlan and its programs.  The Mayor and his staff as well as the members and staff of the Rhode Island federal delegation, who regularly intervened on our behalf in Washington, have also stuck by us every step of the way.

From within the community we acknowledge – and appreciate – the contributions of partners and colleagues who are too many to mention by name.  Never was the cliché about it taking a village more on point than it has been for us over the last eight months!

Finally, Jim Berson, whom we somehow persuaded to step into this ordeal as first interim executive director and then as our ongoing ED, was tireless in his efforts to keep us moving forward and absolutely critical to whatever success we have achieved.

For more than 25 years, ProvPlan has worked with State and City leadership to develop evidence and provide advice on a wide range of public policy issues of importance to the community we were founded to serve.  Under the leadership of long-time executive director Pat McGuigan and founding board chairs Fred Lippitt and Tom Anton, ProvPlan raised almost $100 million from federal, state, and private sources, all of which was invested directly in the community.  It is tragic to see the ProvPlan legacy tarnished by the criminal acts of a person whom we believed to be committed to the same goals of service as we were, but that does not diminish the pride we all feel in what we accomplished together in service to the community and the achievements yet to come from the four programs that are now continuing on through these new organizations.  Despite the very significant challenges of the last 8 months, we really do believe that ProvPlan has both done well and done good over its quarter century of service to the community.

To those who have served this organization over the last 25+ years, we hope that our stewardship of ProvPlan in its final chapter reflects your hopes and aspirations for the organization and for the well-being of the people of the community we care so much about.

Richard R. Spies

March 16, 2017

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