WARREN - While Sunshine of Warren Trumbull Area Inc.'s executive director and board of trustees continue to dodge transparency, pressure is mounting for a state audit and Ohio Attorney General investigation.
The nonprofit group created by Trumbull County and the City of Warren has been under fire because it failed to pay at least $188,600 in property taxes and delinquency fines and owns dozens of houses that have been condemned, demolished or in disrepair. In some cases, Sunshine has collected property tax payments from residents purchasing houses under land contracts, but has failed to forward the payments to the county treasurer who has, as a result, threatened to foreclose.
Members of Warren City Council, the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative and the Tribune Chronicle have been denied requests for Sunshine records that they believe are public documents.
Sunshine Executive Director Anthony J. Iannucci Jr. has maintained that Sunshine is a private, nonprofit organization not subject to open record laws. Warren Law Director Greg Hicks said he concurs with Iannucci and added that Sunshine is not eligible for a state audit.
However, Trumbull County commissioners on Wednesday passed a resolution asking Warren to require a full financial state audit of Sunshine.
Commissioners cited a section of the Ohio Revised Code that states ''...organizations that enter into a contract, or other agreement with the federal government, a unit of state government, a political subdivision or a taxing unit for the provision of services shall keep accurate and complete financial records of any moneys expended.
''Such contract or agreement and such financial records shall be deemed to be public records.''
On May 1, a Tribune Chronicle reporter hand-delivered and mailed the newspaper's requests to Iannucci.
On May 9, the Tribune reporter, during a City Council meeting, asked Iannucci in person if he would respond to the request. Iannucci ignored the question. The reporter asked again, and Iannucci again remained silent. Then the reporter asked if Iannucci would at least deny the request. Iannucci suggested that the reporter could interpret his silence in any way he wanted.
Likewise, Sunshine board members Mel Milliron, Gary Shaffer, Gary Mayers and Kathy Zapka, have not responded to Tribune interview requests made as far back as March and as recently as Friday.
''We are concerned about the long-term viability of Sunshine and how the financial instability may affect residents in Sunshine homes, those that are buying homes from it under land contracts and money provided to it by taxpayers,'' said Nate Brown, a representative with MVOC, which made its own Sunshine records requests. ''We are hoping that Sunshine is spending its money in a wise and resourceful fashion, but we will not know that unless it provides the information.''
MVOC also sent information requests to HUD, the Trumbull County Planning Commission and the Warren Community Development Department.
The MVOC is a community group that organizes people so they can have a collective voice in decision-making. It also attempts to tackle social issues such as poverty and quality of life for low-income residents. The MVOC spearheaded the effort to close massage parlors and eliminate human trafficking in Trumbull County.
Warren councilmen Alford Novak and John Brown expressed dissatisfaction with a presentation that Iannucci delivered recently about a 2011 audit that he hired Anderson, Metzger & Co. to perform on Sunshine. The councilmen asked for a copy of the audit on May 9. As of Friday, they had not received it.
Specifically, some of the information the Tribune requested includes:
The city and county created Sunshine in 1993 using federal HOME grants to provide housing for low-income residents. Sunshine obtained money from the city and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to purchase, rehab and construct homes, mostly in Warren.
Among the private audit's findings were that Sunshine owed the city $737,000, including loans from a consortium of funders, and the value of its property had declined from $3.68 million to about $1.9 million.
As of late March, Sunshine had 87 properties, many of which are vacant or have been vandalized. In the past, Sunshine has used grant money to demolish some of its houses.
HOME funds, combined with some bank loans, were used to buy many of the homes that now are delinquent in their property taxes. MVOC last week sent Sunshine a public information request asking for documents detailing its HOME funding and its operation.
Warren Community Development Director Michael Keys and Iannucci said Sunshine has not received direct funding support through the HOME program since 2011.
Sunshine, however, has received some funds through at least two Urban Development Action Grant loans valued at $75,000, given in 2011 by the city Community Development office. Approximately $10,000 from those loans has been repaid.
In previous years, Sunshine received HUD funding through its HOME program, including about $50,000 a year for administrative fees. Some of that money was used to pay property taxes.
From 2009 to 2012, Iannucci said Sunshine used some of the money that could have been used to pay on its property taxes to instead pay down two older debts.