Melee at Nonprofit Serving Homeless Youth Raises Oversight Questions

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June 13, 2012; Source: The Henderson Press

The charges and countercharges between Kathleen Boutin Vermillion and the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth (NPHY) have been press fodder in Nevada for some time. In brief, at a board meeting late last year, a staff member alleged criminal behavior on the part of Vermillion, who founded NPHY in 2000. The staff member, Arash Ghafoori, filed a complaint with the state’s attorney general in January. Vermillion and Ghafoori went back and forth over which of them might be more guilty. The NPHY board eventually ousted Vermillion and replaced her with Ghafoori, and now Vermillion is suing NPHY for emotional distress.

Vermillion and Ghafoori each have a litany of charges and countercharges they have nailed to each other’s figurative doorposts. As this nonprofit version of Peyton Place works its way through the courts, the press will clearly have a field day with stories that will, if past reports on the controversy are indicative, veer toward some R-rated sex, lies, and perhaps even videotape.

Here’s what jumps out at us from the Henderson Press story:

First, a former teenage runaway herself, she says, Vermillion was the executive director of both the Partnership and its Type II supporting organization, the Homeless Youth Foundation (HYF). For those of us who were generally aghast at some of the findings of the Senate Finance Committee under then-chairperson Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) in the early part of the last decade concerning the shenanigans of some Type III supporting organizations, Guidestar briefly defines these unusual 501(c)(3)s in this way:

“Type I–a supporting organization that is under direct control of the supported organization

Type II–a supporting organization that is under common control with the supported organization (also known as ‘brother/sister’ organizations)

Type III–a supporting organization that is not necessarily related to the supported organization(s)”

In this case, the brother/sister relationship between the NPHY and the HYF is, shall we say, strained. Ghafoori alleges that Vermillion moved money from the NPHY to the HYF rather than the other way around in order to cover her salary at the Foundation. The legislation that emerged from the Finance Committee hearings generally dealt with Type III supporting organizations whose concept of “support” was sometimes a little dubious.  We suspect that the NPHY controversy, regardless of how it turns out regarding the specific charges against Vermillion, might warrant some attention by the authorities as to how Type II supporting organizations function—or don’t—in their familial dynamic.

Second, some of the criss-crossing complaints concern personal expenses such as spa treatments and hotel accommodations for Vermillion and Ghafoori and guests that might or might not have charged the Partnership for their attendance at “a San Diego resort vacation for NPHY staff and donors.”

Those of us who have worked with homeless youth know that providing these services is tough, emotionally draining work. One needs time off to recuperate and recharge. But a resort vacation for staff and donors at a San Diego resort? NPHY staff and donors decamped to the Paradise Point Resort & Spa in San Diego, with at least part of the expenses paid for by the charity, though how much and for whom is in contention. Perhaps the Partnership scored some sort of discount deal with the Resort, but we checked the costs for rooms and found the cheapest discounted rates available through Internet hotel booking sites to be around $600 a night, with some room rates well into four-figure costs.

A program for homeless youth paying for staff and donor vacations at a high-end beach resort?  Vermillion was a member of the Henderson City Council during much of her tenure at the Partnership, so we can understand the absence of local governments in Henderson or Las Vegas calling this group onto the carpet for explanations, but where was the state? Where were the federal officials from Nevada? Did their alarm bells fail to ring?—Rick Cohen

  • Tim

    Nevada makes national news… and again it is not in a good way. This article is a nice look at the relationship between nonprofits and their foundations and how personalities of the directors impact the public image of the organization and their mission. The last paragraph in the article asks some important questions, where was the oversight?, well oversight with fidelity is hard in Nevada where there is a relatively small amount of involved individuals, so interrelationships are inevitable, another example of the incestuous nature of Nevada.