Monday, November 14, 2011

While Arne Duncan & Dick Durbin hide, my congressman Rob Woodall is asking about million$ the CDC awarded to a tainted Illinois nonprofit whose Corporate Treasurer was - ouch! - a top executive at the Atlanta agency

Rep. Rob Woodall (holding copies of SALF documents I handed to him), Town Hall, Suwanee, GA, 11/5/11

A freshman Republican congressman from Georgia is asking questions about a developing Illinois scandal that involves two of the biggest players in the national Democratic party.

Sidebar regulars know that the Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF) was a high-flying nonprofit that, according to the Chicago Tribune, was awarded nearly $9 million in federal and state funds to provide first aid training classes to millions of students.

Among other problems, records of any training classes are hard to come by.

IL State Sen. Tim Bivins
Last week an Illinois daily reported that State Senator Tim Bivins (R-Dixon) and State Board of Education chairman Gery Chico want "investigations and audits of (SALF)":
“Where’s our money going?” Bivins said. “Where’s our tax dollars going? Where did it go?... As taxpayers, we have a right to know where the money’s going.”
...Chico agreed.
"I think if there’s probable cause for wrongdoing, especially if it involves public money, there ought to be an investigation, sure,” Chico said.
That prospect doesn't seem to appeal to this pair of officials who helped SALF obtain big bucks: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. Click their names and you'll see what I mean.

Back in the day, both spared no praise or support for the organization and its founder/president, Carol J. Spizzirri. Duncan called her "one of my heroes." Durbin told a CNN reporter, "I would do everything I could to help her."

Spizzirri, reportedly a twice-convicted shoplifter whose teenage daughter filed a protective order against her mother, is also prone to exaggeration. For instance, per this eye-popping 2006 I-Team report by ABC Chicago, she claimed nonexistent medical credentials, a bogus college degree, and even fabricated stories about her own child's death to gin up funds for her organization.

After dozens more media exposes, you'd think the elected officials who handed SALF millions of public dollars might want to assure taxpayers that their money didn't go down the you-know-where.

Think again. Despite his calls for oversight, Bivins wrote me, "There is little or no interest in pursuing an investigation of SALF in Illinois."

Such incuriousity may be attributable to SALF's connections to scores of public officials up and down the Prairie State's political food chain.

Click here for pages of photos of some of those worthies posing with SALF founder/president Carol Spizzirri and her second-in-command, Rita Mullins, former 20-year mayor of Palatine, IL.

Here are the gal pals of SALF enjoying themselves at a wedding shower last year for Spizzirri's daughter, Ciprina. Since then, Mama Spizzirri has reportedly relocated from Grayslake, IL, to a mobile home park in San Marcos, California.

Carol J. Spizzirri & Rita Mullins, Spring 2010
SALF's Carol J. Spizzirri & Rita Mullins

As Sen. Bivins wrote me, "It's going to take someone from outside Illinois to expose the SALF scandal."

That someone may turn out to be my congressman, Rob Woodall, (R-GA, 7th District).

This week, Rep. Woodall wrote me that since July he's been asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about $3.33 million that agency awarded to SALF.

According to sworn grant applications and financial reports SALF submitted to the CDC (which I obtained via FOIA), a good chunk of that dough was supposed to be used by SALF to provide first aid training classes for many thousands of students in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and other districts.

During most of those years, Arne Duncan was in charge of CPS and had a close relationship with Spizzirri and her operation. He even appeared as a cartoon character on SALF's website:

Here's one problem. In response to a federal court subpoena and public records requests, CPS can't locate any training records.

So where'd the CDC money go?

In addition to Duncan, one person who should know the answer to that question is Douglas Browne who, according to an October article in The Hill, "served as (SALF's) corporate treasurer from 2004 to 2009."

Per The Hill, during those same years Browne was also - can you say conflict of interest? - a Deputy Director at the CDC. From SALF's 2006-07 Annual Report:

Via The Hill:
(Congressional candidate Tim)Bagwell sent an 8-page letter to Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson on Monday requesting that the office "review and determine" whether $3.3 million awarded to the Save-A-Life Foundation were "properly administered."

...Bagwell also wants the inspector general to review the relationship between the nonprofit and CDC Deputy Director Douglas Browne, who served as the nonprofit's corporate treasurer from 2004 to 2009.
That resulted in this:

At the beginning of the summer, I spent a frustrating month trying to get answers from the CDC about the status of the IG's request "for further review and appropriate administrative action" about Browne's role.

CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD MPH

After being sandbagged by three CDC departments, including the office of Director Tom Frieden, I wrote congressman Woodall and requested his assistance.

Last Saturday Rep. Woodall hosted a local Town Hall meeting at which I took the opportunity to reiterate my concerns. A few days later, he sent me this. (To download a copy, click here.)

Per the congressman's letter, there's more to come, so keep reading The Sidebar for updates.

Rep. Rob Woodall

In the meantime, I encourage readers to write your own congressional representative, share a link to this item, and request that s/he send a letter of support to Rep. Woodall for his willingness to take a closer look at this rat's nest.

If you do, feel free to e-mail copies to me.