Charity used for leader's private benefit

 

The executive director of Camillus House used his employees and homeless clients to renovate his own homes with thousands of dollars in labor and materials bought on the charity's credit cards, a Herald investigation has found.



ABOUT CAMILLUS HOUSE


  • Founded in 1960 for refugees fleeing Cuba, it quickly converted to a facility to serve the homeless and destitute.
  • Owned and operated by a Toronto-based Roman Catholic order of missionaries who take vows of poverty and chastity. The order reports directly to the Vatican.
  • Annual revenue: $10.1 million, up 50 percent from 1998, when Dale Simpson took over. About half is from federal, state and local grants, and half is from private donations.
  • Camillus House shelters about 651 people each night. Last year, it served 2,156 individuals with 51,420 nights of shelter, provided 405,000 meals and handled nearly 20,000 medical visits.
  • Simpson was the first paid executive director. Prior to 1998, one of the brothers of the Catholic order served as director.

Miami Herald Staff

Dale A. Simpson, 57, forced to resign last month amid complaints from employees about his heavy-handed management style, denies any wrongdoing. He said he reimbursed Camillus House for the home repairs, and his ouster was engineered by disgruntled employees who didn't like criticism from a demanding boss.

"Nobody is perfect, " said Simpson, who negotiated a secret resignation pact that includes six months of severance pay worth about $115,000. "Very few people like being criticized. . . . And I assure you that I have criticized people."

But interviews and records - including receipts and canceled checks provided by Simpson - indicate that the Miami-based charity's $182,000-a-year director reimbursed Camillus House for only about half of nearly $4,500 in materials that The Herald could trace to work at his home.

And aside from $150 that Simpson paid the Camillus House work program for yard work since 2002, The Herald found no record that he reimbursed the charity for hundreds of hours that Camillus workers claim they spent at his home on charity time.

In one instance, Simpson gave away a donated minivan to a former Camillus client, who says that about two weeks earlier, he installed brick pavers outside Simpson's new $455,000 Miami home, records and interviews show.

Simpson's bosses at Camillus - members of a Toronto-based Roman Catholic order of missionaries called Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd - said they feel "saddened, disappointed and betrayed" by Simpson.

"Very frankly, we trusted him, " said Brother Savio Charron, chief executive officer at Camillus since 2002. "In hindsight, we realize now it was too much faith to be placed in one person."

DEMAND TO STAFF

As recently as November - when allegations against Simpson began to surface - Charron issued a staff memo demanding that employees stop making "defamatory" accusations about Simpson, including his alleged misuse of Camillus resources.

"I am committed to engage our legal counselors in handling any further allegations as liability for slander, " Charron said in the Nov. 24 memo. Charron now acknowledges that the memo was premature.

"He tried to gain personally on the backs of the poor, " Charron said. "I'm overwhelmed by that."

Since it was founded in 1960, Camillus House - now based at 336 NW Fifth St. - has grown in stature and reputation. It has become one of Florida's best-known advocates for the poor and destitute, providing 51,000 free nights and 405,000 free meals last year.

In the six years Simpson ran the $10-million-a-year charity, he was given substantial power and benefits, records show.

In that time, Little Brothers nearly doubled his salary; provided him with a $43,000 sport utility vehicle, a Volkswagen Touareg; and gave him an expense account that - in the last year - averaged nearly $2,000 a month in meals, gasoline and business travel.

Little Brothers loaned Simpson $35,000 from the charity to help him buy a Miami house in 2000. It forgave the 8.5 percent loan after eight monthly payments. He never had to pay back the $32,570 balance.

"None of that is unusual for the size of the organization, and it was given freely, " Simpson said of his salary package.

But Simpson's pay and benefits came as a surprise last month to the charity's civilian board of directors, a group of influential Miami-Dade County business people who until recently acted primarily as fundraisers for the charity and advisors to Little Brothers.

Board Chairman Bob Dickinson, chief executive officer of Carnival Cruise Lines, helped negotiate Simpson's departure amid what he called "a staff revolt" over Simpson and his leadership style.

CONTRACT UNSEEN

"It was either him or a significant portion of the people who work at Camillus - it had gotten that bad, " Dickinson said. "Until then, board members had never even seen his contract, and frankly we were flabbergasted."

Dickinson said that one striking provision gave Simpson a two-year severance package that included benefits worth at least $460,000 should Camillus "for any reason" terminate Simpson's five-year contract.

Dickinson said the spate of internal allegations prompted him to begin an inquiry in which the financial allegations surfaced, but "we had no details, no proof, and Dale was telling us he had reimbursed for everything. "He had become toxic to the organization."

When asked why a nonprofit charity that solicits public donations would agree to keep the terms of Simpson's departure secret, Dickinson said, "Camillus saved hundreds of thousands of dollars" and avoided a potential legal battle over the severance provision.

Neither Simpson nor board members would discuss the specifics of the agreement, but sources familiar with it said it cut the severance deal by 75 percent to about $115,000.

Simpson said he agreed to the secret deal "not because of their threats, but because of my desire to finish this ugly chapter. It would have taken months, perhaps years, to fight these allegations in court."

Dickinson said it was always the board's intention to investigate more thoroughly and to attempt to document the financial allegations, first made to the board on Feb. 10.

But that investigation had not yet started when The Herald began to request Camillus House records on March 16, Dickinson said.

Now, the board is moving to improve oversight, to hire an outside accountant to document Simpson's expenditures, and to tighten its bookkeeping. The Herald reviewed internal records, conducted dozens of interviews, and examined two years of credit-card receipts on three Camillus House accounts.

Among the findings:

* Camillus Maintenance Supervisor Gabe Roqueta and his crew used Camillus' credit cards to purchase $4,447.97 in materials they say were for renovations at two Simpson homes in Miami between Jan. 1, 2002, and Dec. 31, 2003.

"He would either call me and tell me he wanted something done, or he would go around me and call the guys directly, " Roqueta said. "He can't argue he didn't know all this work was going on. He told us to do it."

NO SALES TAX

On the receipts, employees clearly marked the charges for "Dale, " "DS" or "D." Most of the purchases were exempt from sales tax because they were made on the charity's card. By law, the sales-tax exemption is supposed to be for charity purposes only.

According to records provided by the charity and Simpson, he wrote reimbursement checks to Camillus totaling $2,310 during the same two-year period.

"I wrote checks for everying presented to me to pay, " Simpson said. "Why would I pay only half of my bills? There is no substance to these allegations, and they know it."

Simpson declined several Herald requests to discuss the specific unreconciled expenditures. But his attorney, Richard D. Marx, replying to The Herald in writing, said, "No bills were ever put together by Camillus House and sent to Dale, which were not paid."

Neither Simpson nor Marx would discuss workers' allegations about renovating his homes.

Whether or not the charges are reimbursed, Camillus House policy says the charity credit cards are to be used for "company business only, " and any "unauthorized use . . . is grounds for immediate dismissal."

* Roqueta and more than a half-dozen of his employees - and some homeless helpers - said they spent hundreds of hours at a Simpson home: building a wooden deck, remodeling the kitchen, expanding a garage apartment, running power lines underground, painting the house, enclosing and installing an outdoor water heater, repairing a roof leak, and other personal errands ranging from cleaning Simpson's house to taking his pet Doberman, Rudy, to the groomers.

Most of the work at that home was done when the maintenance employees were supposed to be working on Camillus projects and repairs, Roqueta and his crew told The Herald.

And a review of city records also found no building permits for the renovations.

EQUALS 12 WEEKS

But Roqueta - who said he never challenged the work at Simpson's home out of fear for his job - estimated that the kitchen remodeling alone took his employees the equivalent of at least 480 man-hours, or four employees working three 40-hour weeks each. By Roqueta's estimate of $12 an hour, the labor bill for the kitchen remodeling alone would have been $5,760.

In September, Simpson sold his renovated home at 803 NW Ninth Ave. for $275,000 - $125,000 more than he paid for it in 2000, records show. * There may be thousands of dollars more in materials for Simpson's homes bought on charity credit cards that cannot be readily documented, according to Roqueta, two maintenance employees who were issued credit cards, and the charity's chief financial officer.

The Herald found about $7,500 in charges on the same three maintenance credit accounts in which no receipts were submitted by the maintenance crew, a clear violation of the charity's accounting rules. The receipts are missing.

Without documentation, it could not be determined whether those charges benefited Simpson or anyone else.

But maintenance workers Willie Walker and Rafael Concepcion said there are no recorded receipts, in many instances, because Simpson frequently kept them himself.

"I know how much work we did there, and frankly, $4,500 wouldn't come close to covering it, " Roqueta said.

Georgina Pardo, the charity's chief financial officer, said she frequently questioned Simpson.

"I remember going to Dale on numerous occasions to tell him that maintenance wasn't following proper procedure on the credit cards, " she said. "He'd just say, 'Pay it.' "

Pardo said she did what she was told because Simpson was her boss.

* Some of the workers used at Simpson's house received special favors at the charity's expense. Two received rent-free Camillus apartments. And 70-year-old former client Orlando Alfonso received a free Camillus-donated minivan valued at $1,015. The van was given to him two weeks after he installed brick pavers in the driveway of Simpson's new home, 3082 Lime Ct., in December, records show.

EXPRESSED GRATITUDE

Alfonso said he installed the pavers for free out of gratitude to Simpson for allowing him to live in a Camillus apartment at no charge in 2001. "Sometimes I would do work at his house, and he gives me an apartment, " Alfonso said. "I didn't pay rent for three or four months."

Roqueta said that in addition to Alfonso installing the pavers, a crew of homeless clients used a Camillus truck to deliver them.

"I know nobody was paid anything for that, " he said.

Simpson declined to discuss specifics of the pavers project, but did say, through his attorney, that he regularly gave donated vehicles to former clients in need.

Camillus House has no record that any other donated vehicles were given away in the last four years. The vehicles are used by Camillus, sold to clients or sold by sealed bid to Camillus employees, Pardo said.

* Simpson had charge of an eight-unit Camillus apartment building called St. Jude, handpicked the tenants and set the rent outside the purview of Camillus policies, said Karen Mahar, Camillus director of program development.

Among the tenants: at least four employees and former clients who did work at Simpson's home. Rafael Concepcion - a Camillus plumber who told The Herald he built Simpson's deck, helped install pavers and did the plumbing work on the kitchen remodeling - stayed at St. Jude rent-free, records show.

"Everyone else in Camillus housing has rules, " Mahar said. " A third of their income goes to pay the rent." Concepcion has been told he will have to start paying rent. All other tenants were told their rent is increasing and the building will be run according to Camillus rules.

"He gave me trust when no one else did, " Concepcion said of Simpson. "But I don't feel sorry for him. He knew what he was doing."

Willie Walker, another maintenance employee, said Simpson once contracted with him to install a central air-conditioning system on a weekend - on his own time - for $1,500. But he said he did as much as $2,000 in electrical work at Simpson's home on charity time.

"Anybody that would use Camillus employees to their advantage like that, to me that's stealing, " Walker said. "But what was going through my head was staying loyal and keeping my job."

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