NC Racial Equity Initiative chief linked to fraud investigation

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Kimberly Henderson is the new executive director of the Office of Employer Inclusion and Advancement, which will work with Mayor Vi Lyles’ racial equity initiative.

Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative

The new leader of the Mayor’s Initiative for Racial Equity has been the subject of a criminal investigation related to the handling of large unemployment fraud claims while she was director of employment and labor services. family from Ohio, according to documents.

Kimberly Henderson, who was named executive director of the Office of Employer Inclusion and Advancement on Thursday to support the mayor’s $250 million initiative, led the Department of Employment and Family Services of Ohio until his resignation in March 2021.

In May 2021, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost asked the Ohio Highway Patrol and Columbus police to open a criminal investigation into the department’s handling of large fraudulent claims in the amid a deluge of new requests as the pandemic unfolded.

Yost wrote that the state auditor’s office “did not have confidence in the financial information provided by the Department of Employment and Family Services or its then-director, Kimberly (Hall) Henderson.” .

The department did not implement controls required by the federal government to monitor fraud and overpayments, and did not disclose knowledge of suspected fraud to the auditor, he said. in his letter to the police.

The letter was provided to the Observer on Friday by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Fraud issues during Henderson’s tenure in Ohio were first reported locally by WCNC.

Attempts to reach Henderson through the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, where his new position is based, and through a spokesperson affiliated with the equity initiative failed on Friday.

Yost asked the police department to investigate whether any criminal laws were violated, including “dereliction of duty, obstruction of official business and/or tampering by the former director and/or any other member Staff”.

Inquiries to the Ohio Highway Patrol and Columbus police requesting information on the results of the investigation were not returned Friday afternoon.

An October 2021 Ohio State audit, released more than six months after Henderson resigned, found $475 million in fraudulent payments were made to ineligible people, with $3.3 billion additional dollars in overpayments.

This audit revealed a “failure of early action and prevention”, combined with a outdated system and unprecedented demand during the pandemic. The department oversees a wide range of social and labor programs, including state public assistance, unemployment, child and adult protective services and child care programs, according to the state website.

Henderson is not mentioned by name in the audit. But the document refers to a former director who gave conflicting answers about how quickly he learned of fraud in the department, according to the audit.

Information on the extent of the fraud provided by the Ministry for a Audit did not match testimony Henderson gave to two committees of the Ohio House of Representatives, according to the October 2021 document. The reason is, the audit continued, that department staff believed the request involved internal fraud and not by residents filing false claims.

Lots of money for equity

In his new role, Henderson will play a leadership role in shaping the implementation of the Mayor’s namesake capital pledge, the largest investment to advance black and brown residents in the city’s history. .

The initiative is a public-private partnership with a $250 million goal for racial equity investments, including strengthening Johnson C. Smith University and bridging the digital divide.

Henderson will directly oversee efforts to increase diversity in hiring and promotion for Charlotte’s largest employers, as well as other areas of interest.

Mayor Vi Lyles did not respond to a request for comment through a city spokesperson.

“Ms. Henderson is an employee of the Alliance and the city was not involved in the hiring or selection process,” city spokesman Cory Burkarth said in a statement written Friday after -midday.

Burkarth did not respond to questions from the Observer about whether the mayor was aware of the audit and related criminal investigation or about the mayor’s confidence in Henderson’s ability to fill the new position.

Tanya Mendis, spokeswoman for the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, declined to comment on the audit and the attorney general’s request for an investigation.

Henderson became director of the Ohio Department of Employment and Family Services in early 2019, according to local media reporting her resignation.

Prior to that, she worked for six years as senior vice president of administration and general counsel at Columbus State Community College, according to the college’s announcement of her departure.

This announcement also stated that she had previously worked as an assistant chief attorney in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

About a year after Henderson became director of the Department of Employment and Family Services, the coronavirus pandemic began and, like in several other states, caused significant delays in unemployment benefit payments, according to cleveland.com.

Will Wright contributed to this report.

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Lauren Lindstrom is a reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering affordable housing. She previously covered health for The Blade in Toledo, Ohio, where she wrote about the state’s opioid crisis and lead poisoning in children. Lauren is a Wisconsin native, a graduate of Northwestern University and a 2019 Report for America Fellow.
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