Broward News

Nothing Pays Like Nonprofit Work in Deerfield; Just Ask Beth Kofsky

A Miami-based nonprofit corporation called Housing and Assistive Technology appears to have played a role in what a forensic auditor called a pattern of "suspected fraud" in the Deerfield Beach's spending of low-income housing funds from the federal government.

Judging by its tax filings, the nonprofit is a one-woman operation: specifically, Beth Kofsky's. She works with Deerfield Beach officials to ensure that the city's low-income housing funds go toward qualified applicants and that those funds are spent appropriately.

So it's problematic that the forensic auditor, Kessler International, found that too often, the housing funds go toward individuals who shouldn't receive them and that there's significant waste in the ways those dollars are spent.

Juice reached Kofsky two weeks ago to get her side of the story. Her answers did little to ease concerns about mismanagement.

The Kessler report found problems with virtually every transaction of Kofsky's that it analyzed. But the one that involved Anthony Davis, pastor of the Church of Brotherly Love, raised the most red flags.

In 2005, Davis and his wife, Margaret, had applied through the Community Development Block Grant to have improvements made to their bathroom that would make it more accessible to their daughter, who has a disability.

Among Kofsky's tasks, she was to ensure that the Davises qualified for a program that's designed to benefit low-income families. At a minimum, that means scrutinizing the couple's personal tax returns.

The Davises' IRS filings from that year, however, show that they reported more than $46,000 in income, meaning they rated as "moderate," not "low" income. That alone should have been enough to disqualify them, based on what the audit found.

The Davises are associated with a number of other local corporations, but there's no indication that Kofsky contacted the treasurers of those corporations to get a certified report about whether those were a source of additional income for the couple. In addition, the audit found that Kofsky had neglected to account for the Davises' ownership interest in other local properties.

Asked why she qualified the Davises for bathroom improvements, Kofsky said that she didn't have a clear memory of that particular contract. She pointed out, "The city has the final say on income qualification."

If it wasn't the city's fault, Kofsky speculated that the client (the Davises in this case) may have been to blame. "If people don't give information accurately on their application... we don't assume the role of FBI," she said. "We have to rely on people who apply to be truthful."

But it seems that Kofsky is paid by the city to perform income qualifications so that the city doesn't have to rely entirely on applicant statements.

Another service Kofsky provides is project management. It's her job to analyze a client's needs, to determine what can be funded under the public program, and then to work with contractors to ensure that the services can be performed within the amount budgeted.

But the contract by Kofsky calls for fairly extravagant improvements. A bath chair, for instance, was budgeted for $400. The Kessler audit found an identical chair that could be purchased for $75. The new tub/shower was budgeted for $2,200. A toilet was to cost $600; a vanity with a marblized top was $700.

And perhaps most tellingly, Kofsky appears to have ignored the contract's stipulation that any tile repair be done with white or bone-colored tile, presumably because those colors are the best value. Instead, Kofsky allowed the Davises to deck out their bathroom floor with a tile called "Rainforest Gardenia," along with a bathroom wall in "Behalian Beige."

It's not clear how that color of tile makes the bathroom more handicap-accessible. Kofsky said that without looking at the contract, she couldn't address questions about whether the spending was appropriate.

Altogether, the project was budgeted for $15,000. Yet the audit found that the total project cost was $17,000. Kofsky said she couldn't recall who gave her permission to exceed the budget.

If the audit is correct, then, Kofsky failed to properly qualify the client, failed to be judicious in spending the available funds, and failed to complete the project without going over the budget. Despite failing in the most important aspects of the job, Kofsky was paid $3,500, the maximum amount.

Asked whether she did $3,500 worth of work, Kofsky simply said that's her going rate, a flat fee.

But that's not what her contract says. Rather, it stipulates that Kofsky was to bill by the hour.
In the audit, Kessler expressed astonishment that Kofsky "always" billed $3,500 for her work with Deerfield Beach. "It is unclear how every matter handled by Housing and Assistive Technology, Inc. could take the same time to complete," said the audit.

By billing that maximum amount, Kofsky effectively pledged that she toiled for at least 150 hours on the Davis contract -- roughly five workweeks.

Whatever the case, there's no doubt that Kofsky has made a comfortable living in the nonprofit business. According to tax filings, Kofsky pays herself a salary of $122,000, not counting a $17,000 expense account.

In a previous interview with Juice, Davis has denied any wrongdoing, saying that all his bathroom improvement expenses were cleared by Kofsky.

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Thomas Francis