The FBI has reportedly questioned four people about the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation, a once-powerful and politically connected nonprofit in Northwest Philadelphia.
According to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the interviews started last November and ended sometime within the past two months.
Investigators spoke with California lawyer Peter Meadow; Sadiki Travick, a former client of Meadow’s; Germantown Newspapers publisher Jim Foster and a Mount Airy property owner who declined to be identified, according to the paper.
An investigative critic
In an interview, Foster said the FBI talked to him twice, in part because his community newspaper, The Independent Voice, has been critical of OARC and state Rep. Dwight Evans (D-203rd), who founded the nonprofit in 1983.
“I’ve been fairly strident about my views on how nonprofits in general are often fronts for political malfeasance and the misuse of the public money and public trust,” said Foster. “And the articles that I have written along those lines are pretty specific.”
Foster, for example, wrote stories that raised questions about OARC’s 2009 purchase of North by Northwest, a Mount Airy nightclub.
“[They wanted to know] what I thought about this, how I came to that conclusion, what kinds of perspectives other people in the community had that may have come back to me as a result of writing these articles,” said Foster.
Other Philadelphia nonprofits came up, he said, leading him to believe that the scope of the investigation was broader than OARC.
Meadow said he was questioned about a 2010 lawsuit that centered on a West Oak Lane restaurant owned, at the time, by Travick.
The civil suit, which was dismissed, alleged that OARC’s former president Jack Kitchen and others set Travick up for failure in order to take over his business.
Travick maintained that Kitchen promised him a liquor license, but never followed through with transferring it. The lack of alcohol sales, the complaint alleged, made it “impossible” for Travick to stay afloat.
Meadow said he handed over documents, including emails, connected to the case.
Similar to Foster, he said he got the feeling the interview was part of something bigger than OARC.
It’s unclear what, however.
OARC officials silent
Efforts to interview Kitchen, who recently left OARC for unknown reasons after nearly two decades on the job, were unsuccessful.
Kimberly Lloyd, listed on OARC’s website as the organization’s president and CEO, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Evans could not be reached for comment. Kim Turner, his chief of staff, said the office doesn’t know “anything about” the investigation.
Patty Hartman, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said her office could not confirm or deny the investigation.
The back story
News of the FBI interviews is the latest knock against OARC which, for years, has been applauded as an agent of economic change and community improvement in West Oak Lane, where it’s headquartered.
When Evans’ clout in Harrisburg was at its peak, millions of state dollars flowed into the neighborhood’s commercial corridor. S
tate grants also underwrote The West Oak Lane Jazz Festival, a free, high-profile event held annually along Ogontz Avenue for nearly a decade.
In 2011, the state fund used to support the three-day fete was “zeroed out” in Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal.
OARC reportedly still owes the city thousands of dollars for police services provided for the festival in 2010 and 2011.
Last July, a two-year, state-launched probe into alleged financial mismanagement led to OARC returning $1.2 million in public money. The state attributed no wrongdoing to the nonprofit and restored its eligibility toreceive state funding.