At a time when Miami's oldest inner-city social service agency could not make its payroll, two top executives cashed more than $100,000 in agency checks they wrote to themselves.
For seven months, from last June until January, the president and the chief financial officer of the James E. Scott Community Association cashed at least 96 checks.
Longtime President Archie W. Hardwick and his chief fiscal aide, George Thoroman, deny any wrongdoing. But they could not document how most of the payments to themselves benefited the Liberty City agency that provides day care for poor preschoolers and food for the elderly.
Hardwick said disgruntled employees, bent on destroying the agency, stole most of the paper work that would itemize the expenses. Hardwick gave The Miami Herald several different versions of how the money was spent, then produced backdated memos he said were reconstructed to account for the money.
He said keeping JESCA financially afloat is a demanding, difficult job mirroring all the problems of inner-city life. Trying to help poor street people, soothe youthful passions and quell riots doesn't leave him much time to act like an IBM accountant, Hardwick said.
Often, he said, he was forced to pay JESCA expenses in cash. Although JESCA's bookkeeping and accounting practices may not have been perfect, he said, no money was ever stolen.
"I've tried very hard to operate the agency within the confines of what I consider right, " Hardwick said. "I may be misguided, but I'm not dishonest."
JESCA, a $7 million-a-year agency funded with tax dollars and private donations, has had a troubled financial history. The Internal Revenue Service has filed liens against it, vendors have sued it, auditors have challenged its accounting practices.
The money withdrawn by Hardwick and Thoroman, at the least, raises questions about the agency's controls over its money:
* Hardwick cashed 48 checks totaling $47,400 from June until January. He contended that the money was reimbursement for agency expenses and a tax lien he once paid on JESCA's behalf.
* The checks cashed by Hardwick included $5,100 in advance pay. Hardwick initially said the money was for auto repairs that he eventually repaid. He later said it was an interest-free loan for a personal benefits package that he had not repaid.
* Thoroman cashed 48 checks totaling $54,500 from June until January. He said most of that money -- about $40,000 -- went to Hardwick.
Thoroman kept $12,000 for himself. He said it was an interest-free agency loan for a down payment on a condo, which he never bought. Thoroman also withdrew an additional $11,500 in April 1990. He used it to buy a new Plymouth Sundance, registered in his name. After Herald inquiries, Thoroman said he would return the car to JESCA when he stops working for the agency. Hardwick said both were financial commitments made to Thoroman when he was hired.
* As the agency was laying off workers, Hardwick gave himself a $50,000-a-year pay raise. The September pay hike boosted his annual base salary to about $140,000. He decreased his salary after The Herald began looking into JESCA.
A former assistant fiscal director, Elizabeth Jansson, came to The Herald last month with reports of what she said were thousands of dollars in unsupported spending.
"This is money that should be going to the hungry little kids or the elderly, " she said.
"I've sat back for so long and watched what has gone on, and it's so sad, " she said. "This agency could really work. It could really be something in this community."