January 26, 2012; Source: The Commercial Appeal | This is a weird twist on the dangers of private philanthropic money flowing into public systems. In 2004, Memphis businessman Nick Clark, “scion” of a well known and powerful family, fronted $155,000 to set up a covert office for the Memphis Police Department (MPD) organized crime unit’s undercover program. He also purchased police equipment and set up shell businesses.

Clark says, “I’m not involved in police operations…I lease the space, pay for the bills, account for the funds and ask for reimbursement.” Still, he himself spent what he estimates to be 1,000 hours volunteering for the crime fighting activities of this office. In doing so, he became ensnared in a scandal wherein a local club dancer accused him and an FBI agent of trying to set up former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton in a videotaped sexual tryst.

In an apparent attempt to mollify the former mayor, a special prosecutor wrote him a letter in which he stated, “Although a request may have been made of Ms. Smith to gain information concerning embarrassing material about you, it was apparent from the interviews that she never intended to even attempt such action. And while, if the solicitation had gone further before she reported the matter to you, a crime may have been committed; it does not appear that any attempted crime went beyond the preparation stage to the perpetration stage.”

While Clark acknowledges that the relationship must draw to a close in the wake of an audit that questioned the central controls of the MPD in carrying out its charge, he says, “There’s a greater level of accountability to have me spend the money, or my wife spend the money, and send them invoices, which they have the authority to approve or not to approve.” –Ruth McCambridge