Sunshine Inc. critics pleased with probe

WARREN – Critics of Sunshine of Warren Trumbull Area Inc. expressed relief that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s charitable law division took up their calls for an investigation of the nonprofit organization’s operations.

DeWine last week, in an interview with the Tribune Chronicle, was asked if his office is doing an investigation of the agency based on letters of concern sent last year.

”The investigation is ongoing and it’s active,” DeWine said.

The attorney general did not elaborate on the depth of the investigation. He confirmed that his office received several letters concerning Sunshine of Warren Trumbull Area Inc.

Anthony Iannucci, executive director of Sunshine Inc., on Tuesday said the nonprofit organization received a request for information from the attorney general’s charitable law division in April 2013. It responded to the attorney general’s office request on May 5.

“We submitted all of the information requested,” Iannucci said. “We have not heard anything since. We gave them all of what they asked for. We have not had a phone call since. That is all we really know.”

Iannucci said if the attorney general’s office asks for additional information, they will provide it.

Several council members and community residents last year contacted state and local officials with concerns about Sunshine in light of revelations that it owed more than $188,600 in back property taxes to the county.

Sunshine of Warren Trumbull Inc. was created in the early 1990s to be a community housing and urban development organization in which a consortium of Trumbull County and the city of Warren could receive grants directly from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, instead of having to apply to the state for the grants.

National HOME grants are designed to help areas create housing opportunities for low- to moderate-income residents.

When council members questioned Iannucci about the tax debt and the general operation of the nonprofit during hearings last year, some said he was evasive and nonresponsive to their inquiries.

Mayor Doug Franklin recently announced that Sunshine’s board agreed to a request made by the administration to allow a state audit to be conducted its financial records. The audit began last week.

Iannucci said the Sunshine board agreed to the audit to help clear the air.

Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd Ward, council’s former finance committee chairman, said, “I’m glad the attorney general stepped up to the plate. The state auditor’s office said it did not have the authority to demand meeting minutes that could be obtained by the attorney general’s office.”

Novak said an independent investigation is the only way to regain confidence in Sunshine’s operations.

“I’m hoping that other agencies will join in,” Novak said.

Councilman Greg Bartholomew, D-4th Ward, a co-signee of the letters, also was not satisfied with the information council received last year and said he hopes an investigation will bring all aspects of the agency’s operations to light.

“I would like them to look at both Sunshine and Warren Redevelopment and Planning. That will get everything on the table,” Bartholomew said. ”I question loans between the two agencies, because they are headed by the same man.”

Councilman John Brown, D-3rd Ward, added that he had requested a hard copy of a PowerPoint presentation given to council in May by Iannucci, but never received it.

”We are fiscally responsible, as council members, and we want answers,” Brown said.

Community activist Dennis Blank was not one of the people who wrote to the Ohio attorney general’s office about Sunshine, but he wrote a letter expressing concerns to state Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Howland.

“I wrote the letter to Ryan’s office because I felt Sunshine and WRAP were being ineffectually operated,” Blank said. “I’m glad they remade the (Sunshine) board. I believe they now have good local people on it who care.”

Heather McMahon, director of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, said she did not have enough information to make a judgment.

MVOC is a community organization partnering with other established area groups seeking to create sustainable change. It seeks to improve quality of life through the establishment and support of healthy neighborhoods.

MVOC last year made public record requests to Sunshine officials for its financial information, but did not receive a response.

“We want to make sure that public tax dollars are used wisely and well to benefit the community,” McMahon said. “Any group or organization that are using public dollars for housing, we want to see they are doing it well.”