A new report from the Office of the DC Auditor found the former chairperson and former treasurer of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8C wrote thousands of dollars worth of fraudulent and unauthorized checks over the past two years.
The former chairperson, longtime ANC commissioner and recently celebrated community figure Mary Cuthbert, should have known better, the auditor’s report scolds. Both she and the former treasurer, Rhonda Edwards-Hines, attended annual ANC training where they learn how to handle the commission’s finances. And Cuthbert in particular has “sufficient prior experience as a commissioner and a chairperson to know the requirements on signing checks without proper support,” according to the report.
As a result of Cuthbert’s and Edwards-Hines’ shoddy and possibly illegal financial maneuvers, the ANC missed out on a total of $24,700 in funds during fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the auditor’ report says.
Cuthbert lost her seat on the commission in 2018 to Salim Adofo and is currently serving on a police advisory council. Edwards-Hines ran unopposed and continues to represent Single Member District 8C06.
The audit, released Friday, originated from a tip from current ANC 8C chairperson Mike Austin, and lists checks signed by Cuthbert and Edwards-Hines dated between June 2017 and November 2018, ranging in value from $265 to $4,600. The report identifies $15,588 worth of “unauthorized” and potentially fraudulent checks, about $14,000 of which were made out to Edwards-Hines for things such as “cell phones,” new phone/cover,” a “phone, laptop, printer, cell phone bill,” and “transportation reimbursement.” Those expenses made up 97 percent of the ANC’s spending for fiscal year 2017 through March 2019.
There was no documentation to justify the checks to Edwards-Hines, the auditor’s report says. And those items are now nowhere to be found, Austin told the auditor’s office. Edwards-Hines later told the auditor’s office the items were stolen.
Additionally, two checks totaling $1,500 were made out to Project Give Back, an organization whose mission is to “provide a vehicle for corporate firms and professionals to give back to the communities where they work and live in by coordination programs that benefit less fortunate individuals and families, with a focus on children.”
The auditor’s report says these expenditures were not part of the ANC’s budget and were not approved during a public meeting, as required by law. In addition, the law says all grant payments must be supported by an application and voted on by the commission.
The report also highlights two instances where Edwards-Hines provided false information in her treasurer’s report to the commission. In September 2017 and April 2018, Edwards-Hines wrote herself two checks for more than $2,000 each, but listed “no expenditures” in her treasurer’s reports for those months, according to the auditor’s review of documents.
During the two years covered in the auditor’s report, ODCA was only able to obtain minutes for six of the ANC’s monthly meetings. Edwards-Hines was not present for one of those meetings, in another she didn’t even provide a treasurer’s report, and in two out of the fourth months in which she did provide a report, “she provided inaccurate information,” the auditor found.
D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson is stumped as to why Cuthbert and Edwards-Hines did not follow the rules, as neither of the two women would speak with her office before a draft of the report was issued. LL’s efforts to reach the two women via phone and email were unsuccessful.
Edwards-Hines reached out to Patterson’s office after she issued a draft of the report and explained that laptops, tablets, a printer, and desktop computers, along with ANC documents, including receipts were stolen. A police report documenting the theft, dated July 7, 2018, says two air conditioning units, five bicycles, and 24 chairs were also stolen from a home on the 1100 block of Eaton Road SE.
The report does not mention two additional laptops that Edwards-Hines says were stolen.
“The existence of the reported theft does not change ODCA’s findings,” the auditor’s report says. “Had ANC 8C filed complete quarterly financial reports and done so timely, the theft of receipts in July 2018 would be less relevant as many of the expenditures would have been properly recorded. Furthermore, there is one questionable expenditure that occurred after the theft ($4,600 payable to Ms. Edwards-Hines for various items). No receipts were provided for that expenditure.”
Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White recently honored Cuthbert with a ceremonial resolution in June. The resolution, co-introduced by Councilmembers Anita Bonds, Brandon Todd, Brianne Nadeau, Jack Evans, Kenyan McDuffie, Vince Gray, and Robert White, says the “lifelong community leader” was first elected as an ANC in 1985 and lists her many accomplishments including her role in building the new St. Elizabeths Hospital. Trayon White did not respond to requests for comment.
“Mary Cuthbert has always spoken her mind and communicated in a manner that every generation understands her intent,” the resolution says.
Indeed, Cuthbert is not afraid to speak her mind.
In 2003, Cuthbert repeatedly called a member and then-recently elected officer in the Ward 8 Democrats “poor white trash” and “white trailer trash.” The target of Cuthbert’s ire, according to previous reporting, was Kristen Burgard, a Ward 8 resident and the first white officer to serve in the mostly African American political organization.
In 2010, Cuthbert reportedly called a challenger for her ANC seat a “dumb n—r.”
And in 2014, she was caught on video telling then-ANC candidate Joseph Johnson “I’m going to knock your ass back where you belong, you little motherfucker!”