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The Boston Globe

Metro

Second administrator leaves embattled Somerville antipoverty agency

A second high-level administrator at the Community ­Action Agency of Somerville has left the antipoverty nonprofit amid ongoing questions by state author­ities about its finan­cial practices and whether it over-reported to state regulators positive outcomes for residents who sought the agency’s help.

Jeffrey Karon, director of admin­istration and finance for the agency, confirmed Tuesday that he has resigned, but ­declined to discuss the non­profit or any financial matters.

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“I can’t discuss the terms under which he left our agency,” said Suzanne Bremer, president of the agency’s board of ­directors.

Karon’s departure is part of a tumultuous time for the agency, whose staff have been working with the state Department of Housing and Community ­Development to address a host of operational changes suggested by the state. The so-called quality improvement plan, the product of a scheduled evaluation in 2010, offered recommendations that included recruit­ing more board members with financial experience, using newer accounting software, and better defined job descrip­tions.

“Many of the items covered in the quality improvement plan have been addressed in the last two years,” Bremer said.

But she refused to address the Department of Housing and Community Development’s scrutiny of the agency’s financial dealings.

“Those are the ones I will not discuss,” Bremer said.

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Preliminary results of an ­annual audit conducted in July by an outside auditor, Boston accountant James A. George, uncovered alleged credit card misuse by the agency’s former executive director, Kimberly Smith-Cofield, said Leverett Wing, associate director of community services for the Depart­ment of Housing and Community Development. Smith-Cofield left the anti­poverty group June 30, and has not been reachable for comment.

Wing said that in the last two months, his agency helped the Community Action Agency find a second auditor, Glivinski & Associates of South Yarmouth, to examine the alleged credit card misuse.

“[Glivinski] will be looking at the internal controls of the agency, and then determining how to proceed,” Wing said.

In addition, state housing and community development staff began a separate inquiry in March, which Wing said is ongoing, into whether the Somerville agency over-reported outcomes of an outreach program to assist people being evicted from their apartments.

An internal evaluation of the agency performed in cooperation with a Tufts University program, which was obtained by the Globe, showed that ­between October 2009 and September 2010, some services provided by the agency were over-reported; the data was ­inconsistently entered in a computer system used to track agency clients; and the resulting inconsistencies misrepresented to the state how many people the agency helped.

In that period, the Somerville agency told the state it ­assisted 186 clients with finding paralegal representation during the eviction process. But the study found that only 62 ­received the services. In another instance, the agency told the state it helped 78 tenants raise money to remain in their current apartments or pay for new housing; the internal count showed only 14 received such financial assistance.

“We asked for their documentation,” Wing said. “Once that happens and once that process takes place, we’ll be more confident saying, yes, this happened or, no, this didn’t happen.”

The Community Action Agency of Somerville is the official antipoverty agency of the city and draws funding from ­local, state, and federal grants. In fiscal 2010, the latest period for which records are available, CAAS took in more than $6 million in grants or contributions, according to tax documents.

This fiscal year, the agency has received $359,829 in federal money.

The agency’s board of directors is expected to review a draft of the annual audit at an Aug. 28 meeting, Bremer said.

Matt Byrne can be reached at mbyrne.globe@gmail.com.

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