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Enrichmond board member questions former director's 'ethics' and 'transparency'

Posted at 7:03 PM, May 03, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. — As the Enrichmond Foundation unraveled in early 2022, a board member raised concerns about long-time Executive Director John Syndor's "lack of transparency" and "ethics" in an email to board colleagues.

Sydnor had just resigned the previous month to take another job because he said it offered more "remote work" opportunities.

That was after a January audit found the nonprofit was in dire financial straits.

But in his resignation email to the board, Sydnor made no mention of the financial problems plaguing the nonprofit.

Board Member Lesa Williams wrote the email questioning Sydnor's transparency and ethics one month prior to the board's vote to dissolve in June 2022.

Eighty-six nonprofit partner groups like Friends of the Pump House — that banked their money with the umbrella nonprofit and allowed them to be tax exempt and fundraise as a nonprofit — lost nearly half-a-million dollars when Enrichmond collapsed.

The FBI and Attorney General's Office are now investigatingwhat happened to the missing funds. CBS 6 was able to access many of the documents they are reviewing through a public records request.

Where Are the Funds?

Partner groups felt confident using Enrichmond because the Enrichmond Partner Handbook stated partner funds would not be commingled with their general funds, and would be used for the purpose they were donated to support.

But internal documents show partner dollars were in fact commingled with Enrichmond funds, and — according to emails from Enrichmond's former finance manager, Beth Captain — partner dollars were used to pay people who were working at two historically Black cemeteries Enrichmond acquired in 2017.

"I think Enrichmond saw that as, well, this is our money. I think they saw it as a payday when in reality this was supposed to be money that was in our specific bank account they were using it to pay bills," Mac Wood with Friends of the Pump House said.

In a June 24, 2022 email from Captain, who owns an accounting business, SBAY Inc., and had a contract with Enrichmond to handle their bookkeeping, she wrote "my ethical challenge with the situation Enrichmond is in at present has to do with my ethical requirements as a CPA.  I cannot continue to answer questions from partners about their fund balances, knowing we do not have the means to pay out funds."

Wood said, "It was hard to get transparency from them and hard to even get something as simple as our money pulled out to pay a contractor."

In that same email, Captain added that the salary of Enrichmond's Cemetery Ambassador John Mitchell, "has been repeatedly stated to be paid by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, however, we have been paying that out since he started, and we have received no money from VOF for him. As for being able to continue paying people at the cemetery for their work, we cannot use partner funds anymore for this no matter what."

It's unclear who allegedly stated that.

Jason McGarvey, a spokesperson with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which is funded through private contributions and taxpayer dollars, said they gave Enrichmond roughly $430,000 related to the cemetery since 2018, but none of that was for Mitchell's salary.

In another communication, Beth Captain said the organization's auditor found $450,000 of their negative liquidity was because of the cemeteries.

That is close to the more than $470,000 she told the board Enrichmond owed partners like Friends of the Pump House, in April of last year.

Also in the internal documents were more signs of the organization's financial woes when Enrichmond Board Member Tee Clarkson wrote to other board members in late May 2022:

"We spent something like $150,000 of Tricycle Funds we shouldn't have. Not sure what to do here."

The Tricycle Gardens are an urban community garden in Manchester. Enrichmond took over its assets and lease in early 2020.

Executive Director's Exit

January 2022 is when the board found out about the nonprofit's dire financial situation, according to the documents.

John Sydnor resigned in April of that year, titling his farewell to board members "Onward and Upward."

Sydnor wrote, "Enrichmond will evolve and be leaner, more impactful, and more relevant than ever under your steady hand and persistence."

He said he would continue to be a "friend, supporter and cheerleader."

But just a month later, Enrichmond Board Member Tee Clarkson wrote to other board members, "seems that John violated the terms of his MOU."

The next day Enrichmond Board Member Lesa Williams wrote, "I too am disturbed about the lack of transparency by John and also his ethics as it relates to agreements that he engaged in."

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To that point, board minutes showed that all the way back in June 2019, Enrichmond Board Treasurer Vicky Steinruck said she was "very concerned" about the deficit Enrichmond was running of $329,000.

Sydnor soothed her concerns and said that three staff members were moving to contractors, which would significantly reduce payroll.

The financial records show that month after month Enrichmond was hemorrhaging money.

"Even for a layperson like me, reading through these documents is extremely concerning," Mac Wood said.

Former board members, who asked to remain anonymous, told CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit that Sydnor always had an explanation for why the financials showed losses, and always promised that money was coming in.

They claim board members were left in the dark about the financial realities and the misuse of partner funds.

CBS 6 has tried to reach Sydnor to ask him questions about the missing money, but we have not heard back.

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