The former CEO of a Liberty City veterans assistance group has been convicted of stealing taxpayer grant money.
Charles Leon Cutler, 60, convicted at trial last week on two counts of grand theft, will be sentenced July 19. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
Between 2006 and 2008, he headed Veterans Employment Transition Services Inc., or VETS, which helped veterans transition into civilian life. The nonprofit group is now defunct.
In 2007, the Miami Community Redevelopment Agency awarded VETS a $100,000 grant to help create the Hospitality Training Institute to be run out of the Greater Bethel AME Community Church.
The CRA later moved the contract to Miami Dade College, where today the program is thriving, helping inner-city residents train and get jobs in the hospitality industry.
Cutler was supposed to return what was left of the grant. Instead, he wrote $4,000 in checks from the grant account, and more than $2,000 to friends and family. He disguised the payouts as project expenses, prosecutors said.
But once Cutler realized his scheme had been uncovered, he diverted more than $6,000 from a separate county grant to help pay back the stolen money, according to the Miami-Dade Inspector General’s Office, which spearheaded the probe.
Cutler tried to hide the theft by inflating money paid to employees, keeping a portion for himself. Prosecutors also said Cutler withdrew nearly $4,000 from the county grant from an ATM for his own use.
He is also awaiting trial after he was accused of looting an additional $13,000 in county grant money that was supposed to be used to fund a 2008 “Veteran’s Summit.”
Prosecutors say Cutler claimed the money went toward the organization of his own event for veterans. But the event that he claimed credit for was actually organized and paid for by the Liberty City Trust, and catered by the City of Miami.
“The people of Miami-Dade County determined that Mr. Cutler violated the trust placed in him when he put money intended for veterans and the poor into his own pocket,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a press release.