- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

The United Way chapter that administers charity programs in the Washington area is the target of a federal investigation stemming from accusations by a former board member last year of financial mismanagement.

Agents of the FBI's Washington field office served a subpoena Tuesday to the offices of the United Way of the National Capital Area.

"It would relate fully to matters that have been studied by outside auditors," said Irving Kator, an attorney for the charity. Mr. Kator said the requested documents are being assembled and the organization has every intention to cooperate fully with federal authorities.

Because the group supports charities serving the District, as well as four counties in Northern Virginia and two in suburban Maryland, it is involved in interstate commerce and subject to federal scrutiny. A grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, based in Alexandria, reportedly instigated the subpoena.

The agency, which raises about $90 million every year for 1,100 social programs, has acknowledged taking credit for millions in donations it has not handled and withholding donations collected on behalf of some charities while deducting excessive fees to cover its overhead costs.

The probe issues from questions raised last summer by Ross W. Dembling, then a volunteer member of the organization's board of directors.

Mr. Dembling raised concerns about a consultant contract with the agency's former chief executive, renovations to corporate offices and travel expenses of senior staffers. He also raised questions about the sale of vehicles previously leased by the agency to executives.

"Our finance and administration committee looked at this," said Tony De Cristofaro, a United Way spokesman. Besides the internal probe, outside auditors and legal consultants also have conducted reviews. The local United Way has published those reports on its Web site to allay concerns of the about 300,000 people who contribute to the annual campaign, which begins in September.

Rodney E. Slater, secretary of transportation in the Clinton administration and now practicing law in the Washington area, has been appointed head of the agency's Ethics, Policies and Procedures Task Force in an effort to halt more concerns about suspected irregularities.

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