Funny business in Erie, PA refugee agency

Months ago we mentioned Erie, PA to you.    According to Audrey Singer in a report at the Brookings Institute, as of 2000 it was one of the top 10 small cities in the US to receive refugees.   In fact, it was number 3 on her top 10 list.  Refugees made up at that time 74% of the foreign born population in Erie.

The International Institute of Erie, a subcontractor of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), is responsible for bringing thousands of refugees from all over the world to Erie.  Originating in 1919 and existing under various umbrellas since that time, the Institute affiliated with USCRI less than 10 years ago and now receives the bulk of its funding as “pass through” federal grants from USCRI.

However, apparently their financial position is bleak and earlier this month USCRI blamed its new director for somehow mishandling the funds.

The executive director of the International Institute of Erie was fired for misusing institute money, sources close to the matter said.

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Daniel S. O’Brien was led from the institute’s offices on Jan. 25. He had worked at the agency, which finds homes, jobs and health services for refugees, for just six months.

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“The issue with Danny was egregious,” said Peter Limon, the director of field offices at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, the Washington, D.C.-based aid agency that manages the institute. “He violated some very serious company policies.”

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Limon would not say how much money was involved or what happened to it.

Note that it is Peter Limon involved here, I guess USCRI must be a family run outfit.  See Lavinia Limon here.

No charges have been filed.

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O’Brien blamed the matter on “accounting differences.” He, too, declined to offer specifics.

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“I want to leave things positive for the institute,” he said. “They’ve had enough bad press already.”

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O’Brien joined the institute after a long career with the Boy Scouts of America. He often was at odds with Limon and others at the U.S. Committee.

I’d like to know what the other “bad press” has been for the Institute and why Mr. O’Brien, whose reputation is being hurt, is so willing to protect apparent past bad management.

I went back to the Institute’s most recent Form 990 and was interested to find an “Independent Audit” attached where auditors reported in a letter to the Board of Directors in March 2007, well before Mr. O’Brien was employed there, that it is doubtful  the organization could continue to exist.   The Institute reported a loss of $64,784 in its Form 990 for fiscal year ending in June 2006.

Hmmm!  I wonder if there is more to this story.

Check out also the recent posts on the International Institute of CT here.

8 thoughts on “Funny business in Erie, PA refugee agency

  1. The public also needs to know whether a local community, with its attendant local refugee resettlement agencies, is equipped to properly care for those refugees. Refugees are people who have often been neglected and traumatized due to the disasters they are fleeing from. They deserve to at least receive the minimum required services and household items needed to start a new life in a new society, and which the taxpayers have paid for. All too often we see refugees neglected and even abused by mismanaged and corrupt refugee resettlement nonprofit agencies. Government oversight agencies have often failed in their oversight responsibilities.

    Christopher Coen
    Director
    Friends of Refugees

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  2. In response to Dennis, there is actually more to this story that I haven’t had time to write about, but will… it seems that it was reported a week earlier that Mr. O’Brien had resigned. So, one wonders why days later Mr. O’Brien had to be escorted from the office by a bigwig from Washington if there was only a “disagreement on how funds were spent.”

    As a matter of fact, one wonders why it was necessary for Mr. O’Brien to be “bringing groups together”… don’t you all work together for the good of the refugees as a matter of course?

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  3. The only “mishandling” of funds from The International Institute of Erie was a disagreement on how funds were spent.

    USCRI disagreed even though Mr. O’Brien was doing on excellent job bringing together a number of organizations in Erie.

    Since 9/11 there have been too many roadblocks put in place to bring in refugees. Erie is only getting maybe 300 refugee families a year. We have the infrastructure in place for 600 families a year. We welcome our new residents with open arms and hope for more.

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