‘LEO is a piece of crap’

The statement “LEO is a piece of crap” is not, in and of itself, all that shocking. Clearly I disagree with the sentiment, but I occasionally hear it from irate right-wingers or disgruntled readers.

But from the official spokesman for Dismas Charities? Now that was unexpected. Given the organization’s track record, however, I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Dismas is a Louisville-based nonprofit that runs halfway houses for criminal offenders, many of whom provide free labor to city agencies.

In recent years, Dismas has made headlines, not for its charitable work helping prisoners transition back to freedom, but for financial transgressions and tales of inmate misconduct, including drug use, theft, attempted rape and murder.

Several weeks ago, a source contacted LEO Weekly to relay concerns about the fact that the Louisville Zoo uses Dismas workers. Specifically, the source pointed out that Todd Duke — a Dismas inmate accused of attempting to rape a Kentucky Humane Society employee while on the job there — was previously assigned to the zoo.

In response to the tip, LEO staff writer Joe Sonka dialed up Dismas to inquire, and he was connected to Bob Yates, vice president of public relations for the charity. Sonka asked a couple of straightforward questions: “Was Todd Duke recently employed at the Louisville Zoo?” “Is there currently a Dismas program at the zoo?”

After initially responding with a terse “I don’t know,” Yates put our reporter on hold while he sought answers to these simple queries. Four minutes later, he returned, acknowledging that Duke had in fact worked at the zoo before being transferred to the Humane Society, and confirming that Dismas workers are still assigned to zoo.

Then Yates declared, “You’re not going to do it right anyways, because LEO is a piece of crap.”

When Sonka attempted to follow up later with additional questions, Yates indicated Dismas would no longer speak to LEO, prompting me to place a call to find out why. The response I got from Yates: “If you want to print something, you can just say that Dismas simply prefers not to respond to any inquiry from LEO.”

I suggested Dismas has a responsibility to address whether violent offenders are being assigned to city agencies, like the zoo, against city policy — a serious allegation. To that, Yates said, “And our resilience, our stance, is very serious, too… This is an issue dealing with LEO, nothing more. We’re not trying to diminish the importance of any story or any incident.”

Some spokesman. First of all, any entry-level PR class will teach you the importance of getting out in front of a potentially damning story — silence and denials only make matters worse. (Blatant insults are frowned upon, too.)

It’s not the first time Dismas has stonewalled LEO. But then again, why should a media outlet expect answers when Dismas also refuses to cooperate with lawyers, law enforcement and government auditors?

For example, when a wrongful death suit was filed following a murder at one of their halfway houses in 2008, Dismas denied the plaintiff’s attorney access to documents and staff. One employee testified that Dismas had a “chilling effect” on her ability to comply with the investigation. Court documents also reveal crucial surveillance footage was missing from videos turned over to police.

Then in 2010, Kentucky Auditor Crit Luallen embarked on a review of the nonprofit’s lavish spending. “We believed there was a lack of cooperation in providing adequate information, adequate access to staff and adequate documentation,” Luallen told LEO when the audit was complete, adding that she believes Dismas officials think they are “not subject to public scrutiny.”

The audit was revealing, nonetheless, shedding light on exorbitant salaries (the CEO rakes in more than $600,000 in compensation annually) and extravagant expenditures (like $150,000 for suites at University of Louisville sporting events). All this at the expense of taxpayers, at a nonprofit aimed at “Healing the Human Spirit.”

Imagine what investigators might have uncovered had Dismas cooperated. For that matter, imagine how much more LEO might have learned about the prevalence of violent offenders at the zoo and, more than likely, other city agencies had Dismas been forthright.

But that’s obviously the Dismas game plan: Keep quiet and carry on.

We have a game plan, too: Uncover the truth, with or without their help.