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'Shocking' 'internal docs detail Enrichmond financial issues before the collapse

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Posted at 1:29 PM, Apr 26, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Enrichmond Foundation was violating its contracts with nonprofit partners by using nearly $500,000 in partner funds to pay off Enrichmond debts, according to documents CBS 6 obtained through a public records request.

The documents, housed at the City of Richmond's Parks and Recreation Department, shed light on why Enrichmond collapsed in June 2022.

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Enrichmond documents stored at the Department of Parks and Recreation in Richmond, Va.

The collapse left 86 nonprofit partners unable to access their funds.

Those partner groups, like Friends of the Pump House, would raise money for their projects and deposit that money with Enrichmond.

Enrichmond was an umbrella nonprofit that would house the money and then write a check to the nonproift when the nonprofit needed to pay for something.

"They were our 501c3 nonprofit status, and they were also our bank," Mac Wood, the secretary at Friends of the Pump House, said.

Friends of the Pump House is working to restore the Byrd Park pump house that once provided drinking water to people in the West End, and it also hosted extravagant balls for the Richmond elite in the late 1800s.

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A Friends of Pump House project to repair windows at the historic Pump House has been derailed because the group can’t access its funds as a result of the Enrichmond Foundation’s recent decision to dissolve.

In June 2022, when the Enrichmond board suddenly voted to dissolve, groups like Friends of the Pump House were no longer able to access their money.

"We went to go check our balance, whatever, take out money, and, oh, the website is down. Why is the website down? Oh they dissolved... awesome," Wood said.

Nearly a year later, the 86 nonprofits left in the lurch are still trying to get their money back.

RELATED: Mayor: FBI, Virginia AG Office investigating Enrichmond Foundation

Wood estimates his group lost $35,000.

Former Enrichmond board members in place during the months leading up to its collapse have not publicly answered questions about the situation. Former Executive Director John Sydnor and former Finance Manager Beth Captain have not responded to questions from CBS 6.

"We need transparency," Wood said.

Former Enrichmond Executive Director John Sydnor
Former Enrichmond Executive Director John Sydnor

For the first time since the collapse, CBS 6 had the opportunity to review a small portion of the thousands of documents Enrichmond turned over to the city.

The documents paint a picture of the organization's chaotic final months and start to shed light on how hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds belonging to partner groups, like Friends of the Pump House, disappeared.

"The internal documents are just shocking," Wood said.

Six months before the sudden collapse of the Enrichmond Foundation, the president of the nonprofit's board, J David Young, wrote a frantic email to Executive Director John Sydnor, titled "concerns regarding the health and status of Enrichmond."

He cited an auditor's report from earlier in the week and demanded a "crisis plan" from Sydnor highlighting how he planned to make the agency viable.

A week later at the next board meeting, Sydnor told the board "his mind had been all over and a roller coaster of emotion."

RELATED: Groups impacted by Enrichmond's dissolution still seeking answers: ‘What happened to the funds?’

Sydnor stated he estimated the organization's current debt around $717,000, and that $300,000 of that was money the group owed to partner groups.

The amount owed to partner groups would grow to $473,634 by April 2022, according to financial records submitted to board members by finance manager Beth Captain.

During that same presentation to the board, Sydnor suggested that Enrichmond initiate non-disclosure agreements for all employees that were furloughed or laid off.

Where did the money go?

Enrichmond Partner handbooks from 2020 and 2022 explicitly said partner funds were not to be commingled with general Enrichmond funds, and they would not be used for anything other than their intended purpose.

"This was written in our memorandum of understanding with Enrichmond, these funds are not to be commingled," Wood said.

But, according to emails and board minutes, Captain told the board that partner funds and Enrichmond funds had been commingled since before she started at the nonprofit six years ago.

The documents also showed that as far back as September 2020, Enrichmond's accounting firm, Wells Coleman, suggested Enrichmond management maintain adequate cash balances to cover all partner funds

At their late January board meeting, Board Chair J David Young said the January 2022 audit review found partner funds were being used by Enrichmond to make up deficits.

Shortfalls that, according to board member Lu Gay Lanier, were in large part because Enrichmond was not getting enough funding to maintain two historically black cemeteries it acquired in 2017.

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Evergreen Cemetery in 2019

Those findings led the board to immediately demand partner and Enrichmond funds be separated.

By April 2022, John Syndor had resigned to take another job at LISC Virginia, which is where he currently works, according to their website.

His bio on the LISC Virginia website says " For the last eleven years, John served as the Executive Director of the Enrichmond Foundation which he grew from a one-person operation to the vibrant, multi-jurisdictional organization that serves as a steward for public spaces through conservation and programming."

It doesn't mention that Enrichmond is no longer functional.

"I try to give John the benefit of the doubt, but it is hard to understand and accept that he was completely unaware of what he was doing to the agency," Young wrote in a May 2022 email to other board members.

"It's really concerning looking through these internal emails," Wood said.

Mac Wood now hopes the attorney general and the FBI, who are now investigating the situation, can shed some light on who exactly is at fault in this situation, and if any laws were broken.

"I think people a lot smarter than me can clearly see the good guys and bad guys," Wood said.

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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