By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Russell accused Robin Mahfood of trying to coerce him into taking sides against Taylor and Cavnar for their opposition to the handling of the scandal and stated his refusal to do so.
"During the course of the private meeting held with you, Ferdy and myself, I became increasingly aware that the allegations were criminal and immoral in nature and also realized that the two of you wanted me to conspire against Rod Taylor and Jim Cavnar," Russell wrote. "I was reminded of how loyal Ferdy has been to me, particularly in my time of need and that my loyalty to the two of you was needed now. After you told me, and I quote, "This meeting never happened,' it confirmed in my mind that what I hoped was not true, was indeed true."
Russell goes on to say that he, too, objects to the Board of Directors' decision to select Robin Mahfood as president: "I feel that their recommendations were biased because of their long personal association with Ferdy, and (by the fact that) some of their ministries are served by Food for the Poor." Russell, like Taylor, was later fired for refusing to sign the confidentiality agreement.
William Carden, who had served on the board of directors for 18 years, says he doesn't believe his long-time friend and colleague Ferdinand Mahfood ever considered turning FFP leadership over to an outsider. "It's very tightly controlled by the Mahfood family," he says. "They've had control from the beginning, and they're going to keep the control. I don't really know why they feel that way," he adds, "because it's not like anyone wants to take [FFP] away from them."
Carden, having served on the board since its inception, says he objected to Ferdy's suspension, instead preferring that the founder step down immediately.
On September 25, 2000, Ferdy did resign, citing his struggle with bipolar disorder. "We all suffer from human weakness," he told the Sun-Sentinelin an article published October 4, 2000. "I have been in love with the human race for the last 18 years. You should focus on that... and not on any particular women that I am alleged to have had a friendship with."
Mahfood's explanation was at once candid and cryptic. In his resignation letter, Mahfood "spoke openly about his bipolar condition," the article states. "He said his inability to control the disorder led him to partake in "unacceptable' behavior. He did not elaborate." The letter was quoted in the Sun-Sentinel story.
It is not clear if Ferdy's illness was public knowledge. Some insist he spoke openly about it, even joking about the medications he took; others say that, even though they met and worked with him, they did not know of it.
Ferdy's resignation was just the first of many sweeping changes in FFP leadership. In December 2000, long-time board member William Carden received notice he had not been renominated by the board's new nominating committee, which is comprised of Robin Mahfood; Ferdy's wife, Patricia; and new board member and in-house attorney David Price.
"That's how it ended, after 18 years," he mutters. "I got a "Dear John' letter."
Norm Dugas, who had been a board member for 14 years, also received such a letter. Like Carden, Dugas was surprised by the missive. "We knew nothing about it ahead of time, that's for sure," he says.
In fact, Dugas adds, FFP's announcements of changes to the board -- in particular, of the addition of two bishops -- were misleading because they failed to note the outgoing members, all of whom are lay people. "I was surprised that they sent out a press release fully knowing that it was not truthful," Dugas says. "It's supposed to be a Christian organization."
Despite the abrupt dismissal of each from FFP leadership, none of these former board members wants to disparage FFP. Even the most critical of former employees feels the same way, noting the good works the organization has done in spite of its recent troubles.
When the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability stepped in, it was payback time. ECFA director Paul Nelson says independent accounting firms confirmed that money embezzled from FFP has been returned to the organization "by the Mahfood family." He praises FFP's swift and open response to the scandal. A press release issued by FFP through ECFA states that $275,328.84 in funds "redirected by Ferdinand Mahfood" has been "restored."
Furthermore the release says Mahfood "directed FFP-Jamaica to issue cashier's checks totaling $130,000 to [a then-]employee. He subsequently retrieved and cancelled all but $11,000 of the $130,000 in cashier's checks. The remaining $11,000 has been reimbursed to FFP-Jamaica. KPMG has also confirmed this reimbursement."
As charity scandals go, FFP's problems were hardly the most extreme. In 1992 United Way Chairman William Aramony made headlines for funding his lavish lifestyle with money from the charity. Aramony's transgressions were outrageous; chauffeur-driven limousines shuttled him, his staffers, and his mistresses on the company dime, or rather $92,265 worth of donor funds. Through the years Aramony had billed the charity for countless indulgences, including Concorde flights and frequent high-rolling trips to Las Vegas. For this he was convicted of fraud, sentenced to seven years in prison, and ordered to repay some of the money.