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Travel, furniture, ‘lavish’ meals: Nonprofit head misspent $1.7 million, filing alleges

A staff member carries belonging out of the offices of the Youth Policy Institute on the day it closed.
A staffer carries a trash bag full of belongings out of the offices of the Youth Policy Institute on Oct. 25, the day the nonprofit abruptly closed. A new filing in federal Bankruptcy Court says the nonprofit has demanded $1.7 million from Dixon Slingerland, the group’s former CEO.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The former head of the L.A.-based anti-poverty nonprofit Youth Policy Institute improperly used the organization’s funds to pay the property taxes on his house, buy furniture for his home office and make national political donations, the group alleged in court documents filed this week.

Dixon Slingerland, who was fired as the group’s chief executive in September, spent the nonprofit’s money on an array of unauthorized and personal expenses, including private tutoring for his children, contributions to his wife’s pension, and “lavish” dining, travel and entertainment, according to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing lodged by the nonprofit in federal court.

Board members at the nonprofit “concluded that Mr. Slingerland had been misusing YPI’s funds for his personal use over an extended period of time, and at least since 2014,” the document says.

Slingerland, a fundraiser for both President Obama and Mayor Eric Garcetti, used his group’s funds to make “partisan political contributions” to federal campaign committees, an activity that violates federal tax laws, according to the bankruptcy filing.

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The allegations come nearly two weeks after the nonprofit abruptly closed its doors, eliminating nearly a thousand jobs and upending services for low-income families in such neighborhoods as Pacoima and Pico-Union. In its filing, Youth Policy Institute said it had sent Slingerland a letter demanding he repay more than $1.7 million.

In an email, Slingerland called many of the allegations in the bankruptcy filing “incorrect and extremely misleading.” But he confirmed that “a handful of expenditures were mistakenly made” on his YPI credit card, saying he had already committed to reimbursing the group.

“I have made several attempts to meet with YPI leadership to resolve any and all issues, including the fact that YPI still owes me money,” he said in an email. “YPI has refused to engage in discussions or provide me with the necessary detail needed to clear up these matters.”

A representative of Slingerland, who declined to be named, provided additional details, saying her client inadvertently used the nonprofit’s American Express card to pay for his children’s tutoring, his property tax bill and some political donations. She also said nonprofit funds were spent on Slingerland’s own retirement benefits — not his wife’s — and that those payments had been approved by the board.

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Slingerland, who ran the nonprofit for 23 years, had a salary of around $400,000 when he was fired. During his tenure, he forged ties with local, state and federal politicians, raising campaign money and working with them to secure taxpayer funding for his organization.

Slingerland hosted at least seven fundraisers for Garcetti’s 2013 mayoral campaign, according to campaign invitations and Los Angeles City Ethics Commission records. He contributed $5,000 to a committee set up by Garcetti to support congressional candidates in the 2018 midterm election.

Slingerland also raised money for the Obama Victory Fund, a joint project of Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The New York Times, citing internal campaign documents, reported in 2012 that Slingerland had raised more than $743,000 for Obama over two presidential election cycles.

The bankruptcy filing does not say which political committee received the allegedly improper contributions. Dan Grunfeld, who served briefly as the nonprofit’s CEO, declined to comment on the bankruptcy filing.

Kevin Meek, the nonprofit’s lawyer, said in an email that he is “not at liberty” to answer questions about the case. “All questions must be directed to the trustee that will be appointed for the Chapter 7 estate of YPI,” he said.

Youth Policy Institute had an annual budget of around $47 million, running programs at roughly 100 locations and offering tutoring, job training and many other programs. The group was frequently promoted by Garcetti and other politicians.

Federal education officials concluded earlier this year the group lacked the proper financial controls and the systems needed to manage its cash flow. And last month, the nonprofit was the subject of a scathing audit that found weak oversight and inaccurate financial reports — and warned that the group’s future was seriously in doubt.

The bankruptcy filing describes the board’s effort to get a handle on the nonprofit’s financial problems, including the formation of a special committee in April to investigate issues uncovered by auditors.

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While reviewing Slingerland’s expenses, the committee also found evidence indicating that Slingerland had directed the nonprofit to overstate its expenses on reports to state education officials, the filing says. The committee also found evidence that the former CEO had directed the disbursement of federal grant funds for a program that had not yet incurred any expenses, the document states.

Slingerland did not respond to questions about those particular claims. He said in a follow-up email that he has tried six times since July to discuss unresolved issues with the nonprofit.

During the nonprofit’s final weeks, its executives attempted to rescue many of the group’s programs. The Santa Ana-based nonprofit Think Together picked up the vast majority of the group’s after-school contracts. Los Angeles city officials have been working to find groups to take over the nonprofit’s job training programs.

Grunfeld, the former CEO, said last week that about 475 of the nonprofit’s employees had found jobs with organizations that are taking over Youth Policy Institute’s programs. A job fair has been scheduled for next week for those who did not find work, he said.

Many who worked for the Youth Policy Institute received less than 24 hours notice about the group’s closure. Employees have not been compensated for their final week of work or their unpaid vacation days, said Bri-Anne Sullivan, who spent nearly two years with the nonprofit.

Sullivan, who managed some of the nonprofit’s tutoring programs, said she was proud of the work she did and dismayed by new allegations that nonprofit money had been used for an executive’s personal gain.

“It’s astounding,” she said. “I don’t even have the words to tell you how that really hurts.”


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