Patronage for Progressives
Liberal cities keep handing multi-million-dollar contracts to unqualified, criminal-led nonprofits.
In 2021, King County, Washington, contracted with a nonprofit called Renegades for Life Youth Outreach to provide services to boys at risk of gun violence. This nonprofit was run by a man called “Saleem Robinson,” who claimed to have a Master of Social Work from Seattle University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Washington. Unfortunately, as the county would later discover, everything about Robinson, from his name to his credentials, was fake.
In reality, Saleem Robinson, whom the county paid over $260,000 to work with at-risk youth, is a registered sex offender who was arrested after a bartender accused him of staring at her while masturbating on multiple separate occasions. At the time, Saleem Robinson went by the name Basim Salim Abdul-Rahim, one of his multiple known false identities. Robinson was convicted on another charge of indecent exposure in 2007, at which time he was calling himself “James Thomas Tribblet.” It is unclear if any of these are Robinson’s real name.
Saleem Robinson, a.k.a. Basim Salim Abdul-Rahim, a.k.a. James Thomas Tribblet, does have some interests outside of public masturbation. He is also a longtime fraudster and con artist. None of the degrees that Robinson claimed to have were real. He told the county he’d earned his Master of Social Work from Seattle University in 2007, but this is impossible, as Seattle University didn’t begin offering that degree until 2018. Additionally, there are no records indicating that Robinson ever attended the University of Washington, despite claiming that school as his alma mater. During the time when he was mentoring at-risk youth on behalf of King County, he was simultaneously under investigation for felony insurance fraud.
How could someone with this criminal pedigree be granted a sizable government contract to mentor at-risk young people? The answer is that King County did not bother background checking any of the nonprofits that they chose to contract with. Even the most cursory attempt at verifying Robinson’s identity would have identified him as a man who should not be hired for an at-risk youth program. Since he claimed to have a degree that wasn’t even offered the year he said he obtained it, Robinson could have been caught in his lies with a single phone call to the university. Instead, King County paid over $200,000 to place young people from broken homes into the care of a sex-offending con artist.
This is not an uncommon occurrence in America’s most performatively progressive jurisdictions. Despite their claims to the contrary, the biggest supporters of privatization in the United States are often socialists. The difference between socialist privatization and conservative privatization is that if an organization calls itself a corporation, then socialists oppose contracting with it to privatize government services; but if an organization calls itself a nonprofit, then suddenly those same socialists are perfectly comfortable letting a private institution seize control of core government functions.
Because the government is contracting with a private entity, people working for that entity don’t always undergo the scrutiny a government employee would be subjected to. Contracting with nonprofits can therefore lead to the direction of public funding towards unscrupulous groups and individuals, because it is simply not feasible that the government could run background checks on all the employees and subcontractors with whom their contracted nonprofits are associated.
Earlier this year, a reporter for Seattle’s NPR affiliate KUOW investigated a nonprofit called Community Passageways, which King County paid $3.5 million to “prevent youth gun violence and incarceration.” One of the ways that the group does this is through the hiring of “violence interrupters,” whose job is to mentor at-risk young people and prevent them from making bad decisions.
In November 2022, Khalid Adams, a violence interrupter employed by Community Passageways, kicked down his ex-girlfriend’s door and held her new boyfriend at gunpoint. Seattle Wheeler, an 18-year-old cousin of the girlfriend, shot Adams in defense of his family. Wheeler happens to be a client of Community Passageways, one of the same at-risk youths that the organization is supposed to be keeping away from violent situations. Absurdly, a violent domestic abuser working for an organization King County paid $3.5 million to prevent shootings was shot by one of the very young people he had been hired to mentor.
Worse still, Khalid Adams was hired as a violence interrupter a year after pleading guilty to illegal gun possession. Adams wasn’t allowed to own a gun because he is a convicted felon who was previously found guilty of theft, assault, robbery, and rioting.
This problem is not exclusive to Seattle. This summer, Illinois authorized $30 million in funding for a “peacekeepers” program, with a similar goal to Community Passageways. In May of this year, a Chicago “peacekeeper” named Oscar Montes was filmed beating a motorist while wearing his peacekeeper’s uniform, an assault that left the victim partially blind. Montes was hired as a peacekeeper the same month he was released from prison for shooting a rival gang member.
Some nonprofits garner contracts that are so massive it makes a mockery of the term “not-for-profit.” In April, for example, the Portland city council unanimously approved a five-year $50 million contract for the California-based Urban Alchemy to manage the city’s homeless encampments.
Urban Alchemy’s exponential revenue growth would be the envy of any tech company. Five years ago, Urban Alchemy had $36,000 in revenue and a contract with the City of San Francisco to manage public toilets. By 2021, their total revenue had surged to $51,000,000. Its founder, Lena Miller, now commands a salary of $215,000 a year, six times Urban Alchemy’s total annual revenue half a decade ago. Today, Urban Alchemy’s duties include managing homeless encampments and responding to dispatch calls regarding non-violent homeless people.
Like many left-wing nonprofits, Urban Alchemy enjoys hiring convicted felons. Lena Miller has practically bragged that the organization hires people convicted of “murder and attempted murder,” and a number of employees have been involved in extreme acts of violence on the job.
An Urban Alchemy employee got in a shootout in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood in 2021 while in possession of an illegal handgun. Although the employee was convicted, Urban Alchemy rehired him, telling the San Francisco Chronicle they considered him to be acting in self-defense—ignoring his possession of an illegal firearm—and further stating that they intended to promote him.
Another Urban Alchemy worker was shot while on patrol in February 2022 and a second was shot that April; an Urban Alchemy street ambassador was fired earlier this year for brandishing a knife while on-duty; and in November 2022 an Urban Alchemy employee was charged with attempted murder after he shot a man outside a homeless shelter run by the nonprofit while on a break. This is an abnormally large amount of on-duty gun violence related to the employees of a homeless services provider.
Perhaps more importantly, Urban Alchemy is effectively running a private security organization, since they provide security services to homeless shelters and respond to low-priority calls. Nonetheless, they are operating without any of the licensing required by private security contractors under California law. They provide none of the training normally required by security organizations, nor do they abide by regulations mandating background checks. When Sausalito, California, contracted with Urban Alchemy, their city manager said the group was being hired to “provide camp management, security [emphasis added], and support.” It is strange that the city would hire a security contractor that is not legally allowed to provide that service.
None of the above stories are the worst example of nonprofit malfeasance in progressive cities. In the midst of civil unrest in 2020, Seattle decided to fund a “racial justice study,” called the “Black Brilliance Research Project,” via a $3 million no-bid contract. The organization Seattle wanted to run the study was King County Equity Now, a coalition of nonprofits involved in organizing the George Floyd protests.
The city council quickly realized they had a problem. Under Seattle law, no contract larger than $54,000 can be granted without a bidding process, unless the contract is given to a registered nonprofit. At the time, King County Equity Now was not officially registered because it was a coalition of organizations that had not yet incorporated in its own right. Seattle therefore could not directly give the $3 million contract to King County Equity Now.
To get around this obstacle, Seattle gave the contract to Freedom Project, a nonprofit that would handle the money on behalf of King County Equity Now. Freedom Project would then subcontract the work to King County Equity Now, thus allowing the city to funnel the cash to an organization it was not legally allowed to fund directly.
All of this is legal, but there is nonetheless an element of sleaze to it. The law disallowing overly lucrative no-bid contracts exists for a reason. By finding a workaround, the city was violating the spirit of the law, even if their solution was not technically illegal.
From the start, Freedom Project was an odd choice to handle such an enormous contract. Its IRS filings show that in 2019, the year prior to receiving the research contract, Freedom Project’s total revenue was only $260,000. The contract Seattle hired Freedom Project to manage was more than eleven times larger than its total revenue the year before. At no point had Freedom Project ever shown the ability to manage funds of this magnitude, and Seattle provided no oversight to ensure the money was not misspent.
All of this has been reported by local Seattle media, but there is an incredible fact about Freedom Project that, up until now, no media outlet has mentioned: numerous people who work for Freedom Project have a criminal past, meaning Seattle gave one of the largest contracts in city history to an unqualified NGO run by a bunch of convicted felons.
These men’s criminal histories include attempted murder, multiple homicides, and the brutal gang rape of a pregnant 17-year-old girl. According to Freedom Project’s most recent filings with the Washington Secretary of State, three of the organization’s governors are Vidal Vincent, Qudaffi Howell, and David Heppard.
In 2003, Vidal Vincent was driving around Seattle with his brother, Vinson Carter-Vincent. Twelve-year-old Francisco Gutierrez and 9-year-old Jared Hester were biking home after a children’s meeting at a local church and one of the brothers fired a handgun at the children, hitting the sidewalk near their feet.
Later that evening, the Vincents spotted 16-year-old Shannon Thomas standing on a street corner in South Seattle. Vinson Carter-Vincent shot the teenager in the chest, nearly killing him. Thomas lost 40 percent of his blood and was in shock by the time he arrived at Harborview Medical Center. In order to save the boy’s life, part of his lung was removed in surgery. Both brothers were convicted of attempted murder.
The second Freedom Project governor with a felonious past is Qudaffi Howell, currently serving as Freedom Project’s finance director. Howell was arrested after selling an ounce of crack to an undercover police informant named Christopher Pelt. Following his release on bail, Howell began threatening Pelt, whom he concluded was the most likely snitch. Eventually, Howell followed Christopher Pelt to his house, where he committed a drive-by shooting, blowing out every window on Pelt’s car and leaving bullet holes in the fence and kitchen windows of his residence. At the time that Howell committed this drive-by shooting, Pelt’s girlfriend had six-year-old twins and a newborn baby staying in the home, any of whom could have been killed by Howell’s attempt to intimidate a government witness into silence.
The third of Freedom Project’s governors with a criminal history is the worst of the lot. David Heppard, now their executive director, was convicted of gang raping a pregnant 17-year-old, after which he allegedly plotted to have her murdered. He was only 16 years old at the time, but the facts of the case are so incomprehensibly heinous that his age hardly counts as a mitigating factor.
On February 18, 1994, Heppard and five of his friends spotted a five-months pregnant 17-year-old who is referred to in court filings as “J.H.” Cecil Morton III, one of Heppard’s co-defendants, proposed raping J.H. Morton stopped the car and he, Heppard, and a third member of the group forced the pregnant girl into the back seat. She begged them not to hurt her and Morton threatened her into silence with a machete; someone in the vehicle told her that if she didn’t shut up, they would kill her unborn baby.
They drove her into the woods where five or six of them raped her orally and vaginally. J.H. was then forced back into the vehicle completely naked and was ordered to direct them to her apartment. Some of the boys threatened that if she failed to do so, they would murder her and dismember her corpse.
Along the way, Heppard orally sodomized the terrified girl a second time and she was raped by two of his co-defendants upon their arrival. As the pregnant 17-year-old girl was being raped for the third time that night, the boys who weren’t otherwise occupied robbed her apartment, stealing a number of items belonging to her and her boyfriend. They then left the apartment, telling her that if she ratted them out, they would come back to kill her.
Once the boys were gone, their victim called a friend, who contacted the police on her behalf. Coincidentally, Heppard and his partners in crime were pulled over by Pierce County police officers at the same time the rape was reported. A call came over their radio regarding the assault, but the cops did not make the connection between the rape and the teenagers they were questioning; however, the rapists heard the report and were now aware that their victim had contacted the police. Heppard and Morton allegedly began plotting to have the girl murdered, but were arrested before she could be silenced.
Looking through the male employees at Freedom Project, it is difficult to find one who isn’t a violent ex-con. In 2017, Daniel McInally was serving as Freedom Project’s president and was listed as a governor in their state filings. Fifteen years earlier, Daniel McInally, who was 32-years-old at the time, raped his 13-year-old cousin twice. This was the second child rape of which McInally was found guilty. While still a teenager, he was convicted for molesting a 5-year-old girl.
Freedom Project’s Facilitator and Community Engagement Specialist, Eugene Youngblood, was released from prison in March 2021 for two counts of first degree murder. Meanwhile, the head of its credible allies program was convicted of murder in 2001 after kicking her three-year-old daughter to death. The daughter, Zy’Nyia Nobles, was reunited with her mother in February of 2000, after spending her entire life in foster care. Her mother beat the girl to death three months later.
Horrendous though these acts might be, some would argue that the crimes of the past shouldn’t haunt people for the rest of their lives and they ought to be allowed to move on once they have served their sentences. This is a reasonable enough position. However, if someone has committed felonies of sufficient severity, then that person must prove that he has reformed before being trusted to handle taxpayer money.
In the specific case of Freedom Project, they do not require any evidence of reform before hiring people to serve in executive positions. Most of the felons working for Freedom Project were hired shortly after release, making it impossible to know if they have reformed. It is one thing to hire a man as finance director if he’s kept his nose clean for years after his prison sentence, but hiring that same person in a position of major responsibility within months of his release is an act of irresponsibility.
Freedom Project’s willingness to hire murderers and rapists directly out of prison has resulted in proven instances where their recent hires went on to reoffend. An archived version of Freedom Project’s website shows that in January 2022, Parris Miller was working as director of operations. Parris Miller was released from prison less than a year earlier after serving 22 years in prison for second degree murder.
As it turned out, Miller was not quite as reformed as Freedom Project may have preferred. In September 2022, only 8 months after he was hired as director of operations, Parris Miller shot a man to death following an argument in a gas station parking lot and was found guilty of first-degree murder. It is likely he will never again see the outside of a prison cell.
In 2021, King County gave Freedom Project a $977,000 grant “to address disproportionate drug enforcement impacts.” This is on top of the $3 million grant Seattle gave Freedom Project to run the Black Brilliance Research Project. Freedom Project was granted at least $4 million by King County and the City of Seattle over a three-year period, during which time it had an executive director who was a convicted gang rapist, a finance director who dealt drugs and committed a drive-by shooting, and a recently released murderer who would shortly go on to reoffend as director of operations.
Unsurprisingly, this money was horrifically mismanaged. Following a disagreement, Freedom Project cut King County Equity Now out of the project entirely. They then breached their contract with the city by taking on subcontractors without city council approval.
The final Black Brilliance Research Project report is undeniably magnificent. It runs to nearly 1,300 pages. However, approximately 1,100 pages are appendices in which the Black Brilliance Research Project team reprinted preexisting work that was not done as part of the research project itself. Seattle spent $3 million on a racial justice study and only 15 percent of the final report was conducted by the people they paid to write it.
Which raises the obvious question of where the money went. Seattle City Council Insight, a local news website, dug into the project’s paperwork hoping to answer this question. What they found was that the project’s research lead received $300 an hour, despite claiming to be a volunteer; an organization called Sacred Community Connections was paid $78,000 to contribute five pages, mostly advertisements; East African Community Services received $722,000 for 80 pages, netting $9,025 per page; and Black Trans Prayer Group, which isn’t even based in Seattle, received $116,000 to produce eight pages and a video to be released later. The most egregious misuse of funds was $443,000 directed to a nonprofit called “Bridging Cultural Gaps” for 20 pages and 19 researchers, or $22,000 per page and 1.05 pages per researcher. Most of its contribution consists of powerpoint slides.
To recap: Seattle gave $3 million to an unqualified nonprofit that had gang rapists, murderers, child killers, and drive-by shooters working in major positions, which proceeded to onboard a bunch of subcontractors without first getting those subcontractors approved by the city, as was required by the terms of their contract. Hundreds of thousands of dollars taken from the good taxpayers of Seattle were siphoned off to politically connected NGOs, most of which performed work that was comically insufficient to justify their pay.
It will come as no surprise what policies are advocated by the research project produced by this process. The final report advocates massive police defunding, with one of the appendices demanding that the Seattle Police Department have its funding cut in half. One section of the report, written by Freedom Project itself, argues that violent offenders ought to be treated no more severely than those convicted of a non-violent drug crime. They claim that within five years of release, “only 39 percent of people convicted of violent offenses committed a new crime, as compared to 50.8 percent of people convicted of property crimes, and 42.8 percent of individuals convicted of drug offenses.” Thus, “people who commit a violent act are not inherently violent, and that act of violence represents only a single moment in someone’s life.”
This entire argument is self-serving. If you dig into the evidence on recidivism, the primary reason violent offenders have lower recidivism rates is because their prison sentences are longer and they are older upon release. As a 2021 study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics notes, “people released at age 24 or younger were 64 percent more likely to be reincarcerated at year five (56.8 percent) than those released at age 40 or older (36.3 percent).” If America reduced prison sentences for violent offenders, as Freedom Project advocates, then violent criminals would be released at younger ages and their likelihood of reoffending would increase.
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A recent report from The Sentencing Project, an organization that supports reduced sentences for violent offenders, unintentionally proved that it is extremely dangerous to release the most violent criminals earlier. According to the report, only 2 percent of murderers and 1 percent of violent criminals are rearrested for murder within five years of release. However, 22 percent of convicted killers and 33 percent of violent felons will be rearrested for a violent crime over the following five years. In plain numbers, this means that if the United States released 100,000 violent criminals, we could expect 1,000 of them to be rearrested for murder and 33,000 of them to be rearrested for a violent crime within five years.
It is blatantly obvious why this $3 million report is filled with pro-criminal falsehoods. If you hire criminals to handle a report on policing and incarceration, those felons will tell you that criminals are victims of society and should be lightly punished. By giving this contract to Freedom Project, Seattle guaranteed that the report they were paying for would be too biased to have any value as a policy document.
The propensity of progressive cities to hand millions of dollars to unqualified, criminal-led nonprofits is made all the more infuriating by their unwillingness to learn from their mistakes or accept personal responsibility. Shortly after the conclusion of the Black Brilliance Research Project, a state auditor’s report found that the city had operated with a “bare minimum of accountability and transparency.” In spite of this damning indictment, the city council celebrated that the auditor found no legal violations. Incredibly, the people responsible for this catastrophe seem to consider themselves totally vindicated because an otherwise searing auditor’s report concluded that nothing they did was technically illegal. As every morally corrupt politician knows, technically legal is the best kind of legal there is.