Upheaval in homeless teens program brings threat of funding loss

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some last names were withheld from this report because of the sensitive nature of the young people’s stories.

As an 8-year-old, Katarina was beaten, bruised and choked by adults she was supposed to be able to trust.

The men in her life at the time slammed her frail 90-pound frame against walls, grabbed her by the neck, whipped her with belts, threatened her with baseball bats and smacked her around.

The daily physical abuse at the hands of her father and stepfather — a man she calls her "mom’s husband" — would go on for a decade.

She tried to run away, many times. The very first time she plotted to escape the violence, she was hit by a commercial truck that shattered her tiny body. Her mother left her at the hospital. When she was released from the hospital, her father continued the beatings and would not give her pain medication, even though she wore two arm casts from fingertips to shoulders and a back brace. She was 12.

Katarina, now 18, recounts her life story at the William Fry Drop-In Center, a resource provided by the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, which offers kids 12 to 18 living on the street access to food, clothes, showers, health care, counseling, tutors and an independent-living program. After sleeping in cars and parks, going for months at a time without bathing and being forced to wash up in fast-food restaurant restrooms, Katarina needed the help.

"I’ve been through hell, and this place is like heaven," said Katarina, who has been getting help from the charity for a few months. "There’s a positive side to the darkness I’ve been seeing for years."

She is one of the many faces caught in the middle as the embattled nonprofit distances itself from co-founder and former Executive Director Kathleen Vermillion, who resigned amid allegations that she misused the charity’s money.

And now, the nonprofit risks losing about half of its county funds to a proposed summer swim program for low-income families in a move charity workers say is punishment for the alleged actions of previous leadership. The County Commission is slated to discuss the issue today.

THE THROWAWAY KIDS

A handful of teenagers lounge around the drop-in center in a 1,991-square-foot home near the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Some sprawl out on bean bag chairs watching celebrity chefs Rachael Ray and Paula Deen cook on television. Others update their social media websites, chat with friends, send emails and do homework. Some wait to see their case managers.

It’s one giant family.

Jennifer Lopardo, a case manager and assistant programs manager at the center, hugs a client and asks her about her day. She and the other charity workers consider themselves "surrogate parents because if we don’t care, who will?" Lopardo said.

That includes hospital visits for "the throwaway kids," getting them jobs and bus passes, picking them up from appointments and helping them get birth certificates and other identification.

The partnership estimates that 300 kids 18 or younger sleep on Las Vegas’ streets nightly. At least 3,000 homeless youth throughout the city live on the streets, couch surf or stay in shelters.

Right now, 318 kids are taking advantage of the resources.

Bob Bellis, assistant programs manager, asks one teen in a fatherly tone about why he isn’t picking up his phone. He has an excuse, but it isn’t good enough for Bellis.

"When these kids come here, they’re guarded and desperate," Bellis said. "We help them build trust again."

Should the charity lose $100,000 of its $214,000 county grant money, staffing and services provided would suffer greatly, Lopardo said.

"These are kids on the cusp of life and death," she said, choking back tears.

Vincent Pollard is the group’s outreach coordinator charged with the responsibility of making sure everyone knows about the program. Having been a homeless teenager himself without the resources now provided by the drop-in center, Pollard is taking the county swim program proposal personally.

"This is about recreation versus saving a life," he said. "There’s no comparison."

County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who sponsored the proposal along with Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, denied her intentions were retaliation and said she does not want to terminate the agreement with the nonprofit as it undergoes leadership change. She simply sees a way to stretch the dollars so that more good can come from them.

She asked the head of the charity’s board to review the grant request because the "budget submitted was identical to the budget they presented the year before — no new goals, no documentation of whether the goals had been met, same number of youth."

A county audit performed in January found that funding provided by the county to the nonprofit was "not subject to financial mismanagement" under Vermillion’s leadership, according to Sabra Smith Newby, county director of administrative services.

Smith Newby said the audit focuses on reviewing county funds, not funds provided by other community partners or private donors.

The charity also has hired its own forensic auditor — the audit might take up to six weeks — and the nonprofit is conducting an internal audit. The results of those audits will be made public.

WATCHING THE NEWS

Lopardo said some kids have read the newspapers and watched the TV broadcasts about the partnership’s struggles with Vermillion and the county. But they are reassured the charity is performing well and they have nothing to worry about, she added.

"At the end of the day, not a lot of kids knew (Vermillion) because she was never here," Lopardo said.

Commissioners received a letter last week from a local church group pleading to keep investing resources into the nonprofit. The church group raised about $5,000 for the charity around Christmas.

"These young people are some of the most at risk in our society," the letter read. "Many are in these dire straits because of economic challenges beyond their control. What has happened is no fault of theirs! We respectfully question why they should be deprived."

Earlier this month, Arash Ghafoori, executive director, sent out a letter on behalf of the charity’s board addressing the concerns of donors and other supporters.

"… (We) are working vigilantly to ensure that any and all issues raised are thoroughly examined and corrected, that every dollar of our donors’ money is properly and judiciously spent, and that the agency remains a healthy, transparent, and high-quality provider of vital services to Southern Nevada’s most vulnerable population," the letter read.

Ghafoori filed a complaint with the Nevada attorney general earlier this year, alleging Vermillion had misappropriated charity funds. The FBI has joined the attorney general’s investigation.

Neither department will confirm or deny such an investigation exists, per each department’s policy.

The nonprofit’s story grew more complicated as Vermillion waged a very public legal battle with one of the charity’s largest donors, her ex-boyfriend, Commissioner Steve Sisolak. Vermillion has since dropped a lawsuit claiming Sisolak engaged in an inappropriate relationship with her 15-year-old daughter and released results of a failed drug test requested by the charity to county employees.

Sisolak filed a report with the Metropolitan Police Department accusing Vermillion and her former legal team of criminal extortion. Police are still investigating.

ON THE STREETS

Katarina, a freshman in the College of Southern Nevada’s nursing program, beams when she talks about overcoming the hardships she has endured in her short life and the help she has received from the charity.

"This is a lot of help here," Katarina said. "This is about our lives. I don’t worry about wanting food. There’s nothing like that feeling of being able to sleep and know no one will put their hands on you."

Her best friend is Carmella. Both teens came to the drop-in center on the same November day. They have a special handshake and share a similar sense of humor. Carmella, 18, tells a story just as tragic as her best friend’s.

The physical abuse began when she was 14. That was when her father lost his job after having a seizure at work. He was let go for being a danger to himself and others, Carmella said.

"He threw me into the stairwell and threw me into a sink," she said. "My brother got it worse."

She left the day her father hit her on the foot with a medal pole while she was sitting at the family computer.

"It went ‘pop!’ " Carmella said, describing the sound of the pole smacking her foot’s flesh and bone. It turned purple and began to swell.

She packed up her belongings and hobbled the four miles to her grandmother’s, who wouldn’t accept her because of "family drama." So she went to her then-boyfriend’s house to stay a day before his parents kicked her out. She went to a gas station that gave her the number for the drop-in center. It was the same place her brother had gone to for help.

She began walking to the meet-up spot to get a ride to the center, but her bag of clothes ripped, sending them into the street. She picked them up, her foot still throbbing from the pain, placed them in a grocery cart and met up with her ride, an outreach coordinator from the center.

"If this place wasn’t here, I’d probably be on the street," Carmella said, her voice trembling.

"Me and that basket. I’d probably have to live in it. I really thought it was over for me. That’s it. I’m a bum on the streets."

Carmella now works as a ride attendant for one of the Strip casinos.

"They did so much for me, and I want to tell everyone I came from the streets to Safeplace," Carmella said. "I think every state needs this for every child."

MICKEY AND GOOFY

Marquis Richardson, 20, and Levon Moses, 19, met in Rochester, N.Y. Both were homeless teenagers trying to leave the gang life. They robbed and fought to survive. They didn’t want to do it anymore.

Richardson was known in his gang as "Mickey." Moses was known in another gang as "Goofy." It seemed as if fate sealed their best friendship. They room together in the charity’s independent- living program.

"I got shot at and didn’t want to end up dead like my friends," Moses said.

He worked odd jobs posted on the Internet and "slept where I could." He had been homeless since he was 12. The low point was when he slept on a park bench in the dead of winter.

After bouncing around shelters throughout the country, Moses ended up in Las Vegas. He found the drop-in center on the Internet and got Richardson to move, too.

Richardson, an aspiring music producer, is working as a security guard, a job he found through the charity.

"They play mom and dad on us about doing what we got to do," Richardson said of the caseworkers. "It’s impacted our lives 100 percent. They gave us an opportunity to become better, and it helped me grow into a man."

If it wasn’t for the drop-in center, Moses wouldn’t have found a tutor to help him in the CSN nursing program. He is studying to take his boards soon to become a certified nurse.

"It’s your motivation and determination and drive," Moses said. "No matter what’s in your way, no matter what obstacles you have to overcome, you’re going to do it regardless."

Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

ad-high_impact_4
News
Hundreds Attend Slides, Rides and Rock and Roll in North Las Vegas
Hundreds attended the inaugural slides, rides and rock and roll event in North Las Vegas Saturday. The event featured a car show, water slide park and live music. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It's All Rainbows At The Center's New Cafe
The Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada (The Center) introduced its new coffeeshop, Little Rainbow Cafe, in June. Rainbows are everywhere, even in the lattes and toast, and employees wear t-shirts with the quote "Be a rainbow in someone's cloud." Owner Ben Sabouri said the concept is "built around the idea of, you know, be kind and treat everybody the same." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Get a Rainbow Latte at the The Center's Little Rainbow Cafe
The Center, a community center for the LGBTQ community of Southern Nevada, has a new cafe. Little Rainbow Cafe serves up a pride-inspired signature "Rainbow Latte." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed trying to cross Sahara
A pedestrian was killed Friday trying to cross Sahara Avenue near Maryland Parkway about 5 a.m. A sedan struck the pedestrian while the person was outside the crosswalk between Maryland Parkway and Pardee Place, according to Las Vegas police. Police also said the driver of the sedan remained at the site of the crash. The pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene. This is the 75th fatal crash that Las Vegas police have investigated in 2018.
Man shot multiple times
Las Vegas police are investigating after a man was shot multiple times early Friday morning. The shooting was called in about 3:20 a.m. at the Harbor Island Apartments, 370 E. Harmon Ave., near Koval Lane. The man was hospitalized and is expected to survive, but police are still searching for the shooter.
Former Military Police Corps Officer Celebrates 100th Birthday
Summerlin resident Gene Stephens, who served as a military policeman in WWII and escorted then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and President Roosevelt during the war, turned 100 on July 13, 2018. He credits his longevity to living a normal life, exercising regularly and eating three square meals a day. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Motorcyclist suffers serious injuries
A motorcycle rider was seriously injured Tuesday night after a crash on Charleston Boulevard. The crash was reported just before 10 p.m. near Durango Drive, according to Las Vegas police. The motorcyclist was hospitalized with unknown injuries but is expected to survive. Las Vegas police are investigating the cause of the accident.
CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara Has Lunch With Students
New Clark County School District superintendent Jesus Jara continued his listening tour by having lunch with students at Red Rock Elementary School as part of the district's summer lunch program. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, children under the age of 18 can find a free lunch at 104 different locations across the valley through the summer months. Jara highlighted the free program and the importance of eating healthy during his visit. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Timeline Leading Up to Scott Dozier's Execution
Scott Dozier is set to be executed by lethal injection the night of July 11 at Ely State Prison. Dozier was convicted of the April 2002 killing of 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller and was given the death penalty in Oct. 2007. In 2016 Dozier asked in a letter to District Judge Jennifer Togliatti requesting that he “be put to death.” A three-drug cocktail of midazolam, a sedative; the painkiller fentanyl; and cisatracurium, a paralytic, is expected to end his life. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Program Helps Mothers Battling Addiction
Jennifer Stanert has battled drug addiction on and off for the last 21 years. It caused her to lose custody of one of her children, Alec, after she gave birth while high. A new program at Dignity Health St. Rose Dominican Hospitals aims to connect mothers like Stanert with community resources and provide case management services while still pregnant to get connected to lactation and parenting classes, group peer support and education on neonatal abstinence syndrome. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Felon caught with guns in Mandalay Bay room 3 years before Las Vegas shooting
A felon was caught with guns in a Mandalay Bay hotel room three years before the October 1st mass shooting. Six weapons were found inside Kye Aaron Dunbar’s 24th floor room in November 2014. Four were semi-automatic. One was a scoped rifle pointing toward the Strip, according to court documents. Dunbar was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for unlawful possession. The case just came to light in a lawsuit accusing Mandalay Bay of negligence in connection with the Oct. 1st shooting.
Illegal fireworks in the Las Vegas area garner complaints
Clark County received nearly 25,000 complaints over the Independence Day holiday on a new illegal fireworks site. Reports from the site led to at least 10 illegal fireworks busts across the valley overnight. As of Thursday morning, the county is still compiling the total number of citations issued.
House fire displaces 2 people
Two people were displaced after a house fire early Thursday morning. The fire, at 963 Temple Drive in east Las Vegas, was reported just after midnight, according to a battalion chief from the Clark County Fire Department. Crews from the North Las Vegas and Las Vegas fire departments also were called in to help. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
"Red White and Boom" July 4 Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Full video of the Fourth of July "Red White and Boom" fireworks show at the Stratosphere as seen from the 8th floor Elation Pool. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite. (7-04-18) (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Crowds Enjoy Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Revelers enjoyed watching fireworks displays from the Stratosphere's 8th floor Elation pool on July 4. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed in Henderson
A pedestrian trying to cross St. Rose Parkway at Bermuda was hit by a vehicle on Tuesday night and later died. The crash was reported around 11:30 p.m. Las Vegas police responded initially, but handed over the investigation to Henderson police once it was determined the accident happened in their jurisdiction. Las Vegas police did respond to a report of a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle on the Strip. The person, who was hit by a BMW near Fashion Show mall, suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries.
USPS owes $3.5 million for using Vegas Statue of Liberty on stamp
The United States Postal Service has been ordered to pay $3.5 million to a sculptor after using the Las Vegas replica of the Statue of Liberty in a stamp. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Officer Brent Horlacher shoots at Jessie Murillo
Las Vegas police video of an officer-involved shooting on June 29, 2018. Officer Brent Horlacher, 28, fired a single shot at suspect Jessie Murillo. Murillo was not injured. The radio audio is of the officer who fired the gun and the body camera video is from a different officer. Radio audio excerpts are added to the video and are not the precise times the audio was spoken.
Pawn Stars' Richard Harrison honored at memorial service
A memorial service was conducted for Richard "Old Man" Harrison at Palm Mortuary in Las Vegas on Sunday, July 1, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
UNLV professor cautions dangers of distracted walking
An alarming number of adults do not cross the street safely according to a study conducted by professor Tim Bungum of the School of Community Health Sciences at the UNLV. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas-Review Journal) @brokejournalist
Car left in remote desert 21 years is recovered for late owner's children
Showboat casino blackjack dealer Mark Blackburn died outside of White Hills, Ariz. 21 years ago. His 1980 Datsun B310 wagon remained in the remote desert until a network of volunteers recovered the car for his children. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Resort on Mount Charleston Sold for $4.8 million
North Carolina couple and hoteliers Deanna and Colin Crossman have purchased the Resort on Mount Charleston for $4.8 million. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Traffic stop turns into officer-involved shooting
Las Vegas police are investigating after an officer fired a shot at a suspect fleeing a traffic stop early Friday morning. The officer tried to pull over a black Dodge Durango with license plates that belonged to a different vehicle. The driver took off northbound on Lamb Boulevard and at one point crossed into the southbound lanes. A man got out of the car and fled on foot. During the chase, the officer saw something in the man’s hand and fired a single shot, police said. The man wasn’t injured and was later taken into custody. Police could not confirm if the man had a weapon when he was arrested. This is the 9th officer involved shooting of 2018. Per police policy, the identity of the officer will be released after 48 hours. 01:05
5 Dead in Shooting at Capital Gazette Newspaper in Maryland
5 Dead in Shooting at Capital Gazette Newspaper in Maryland Five people have been killed and two have been injured in a "targeted attack" at the newspaper, which is owned by the Baltimore Sun. Anne Arundel County deputy police chief Bill Krampf said the suspected gunman entered the building with a shotgun and walked through the lower level of the building, where the newspaper is housed. According to Krampf, the suspect "possibly" had a connection to the paper through social media. The suspect was identified as Jarrod Warren Ramos. Ramos filed a defamation claim in 2012 against the paper but the case was dismissed. He is currently in custody. President Trump was briefed on the events.
Clark County Fire inspects fireworks booths
Clark County Fire Prevention Inspector Amanda Wildermuth talks about inspecting fireworks booths to keep everyone safe on Fourth of July. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Robbery suspects apprehended
Four robbery suspects were taken into custody Thursday morning after a vehicle and foot chase that ended in an east Las Vegas neighborhood. The incident began when a person was robbed at gunpoint around 4:45 a.m. near Maryland Parkway and Desert Inn. Officers arriving at the scene tried to stop two vehicles. One vehicle escaped but police chased the second into a neighborhood on Flamingo Road near Mountain Vista Street. Police surrounded the neighborhood and the suspects were apprehended. It looked like one police vehicle was involved in a collision with the suspects' car. One woman suffered an unknown injury and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. 01:04
Las Vegas Monsoon and Flood Season Are Approaching
The Clark County Flood Control District held a press conference to remind the public that monsoon season begins in July and runs through September. The exceptionally rainy season brings with it dangerous flooding events that can put the public in danger. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Garage catches fire in central valley
No one was injured after a detached garage caught fire early Wednesday morning on Lawry Avenue near Lake Mead Boulevard and MLK. Crews from the Las Vegas Fire Department responded to a fire call just after 2 a.m. When they arrived, firefighters had to cut holes in the roof to clear out smoke inside the garage so firefighters could enter safely, The cause of the fire is still under investigation. No injuries were reported.
Local
Watch Ruthless! at Las Vegas Little Theatre
The musical Ruthless! will be playing at Las Vegas Little Theatre from July 13-29. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Cadaver art and sword swallowing at The Dark Arts Market
Curator Erin Emrie talks about her inspiration for The Dark Arts Market at Cornish Pasty Co. in Las Vegas Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
'NO H8' Campaign comes to Las Vegas
Hundreds of locals participate in the NO H8 campaign founded by Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley as a response to Proposition 8, a California ban on same-sex marriage. The campaign has since evolved to represent equal treatment for all. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Star Wars and Golden Knights mashup at downtown art shop
Star Wars and Vegas Golden Knights fans attend the Boba Fett Golden Knight Paint Class at The Bubblegum Gallery in Las Vegas, Friday, June 29, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Tourists and locals enjoy Independence Day fireworks at Caesars Palace
Hundreds of tourists and locals gaze at the Independence Day fireworks show at Caesars Palace on Saturday, June 30, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Clark County recount votes in commission’s District E primary
Clark County staff begin the recount requested by candidate Marco Hernandez in the democratic primary for the County Commission's District E seat on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Long-running local hip hop producer wants Vegas rappers to shine
Las Vegas Hip Hop producer and co-owner of Digital Insight Recording Studios Tiger Stylz reflects on 30 years of music production in the city. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
"Pawn Stars" fans visit Richard Harrison's memorial at Gold & Silver Pawn
"Pawn Stars" fans from around the world visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas following the passing of Richard "Old Man" Harrison on Monday, June 25, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Construction for new 51s ballpark underway
New home of the Las Vegas 51s is planned to be finished by March 2019 in Summerlin according to team president Don Logan. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Underground home was built as Cold War-era hideaway
The underground house at 3970 Spencer Street is one of the valley’s most unusual homes built 26 feet underground in 1978 by Girard “Jerry” B. Henderson, who, planned to survive the end of the world there.
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours takes you where the locals go
Donald Contursi talks about Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, which offers walking tours of restaurants on and off Las Vegas Boulevard with food samples and tidbits of history about the places they visit.
Bump stock manufacturers under fire
The Justice Department said last month that it had started the process to amend federal firearms regulations to clarify that federal law defines bump stocks as machine guns.
Art Bell’s Top 10 Shows
A selection of radio host Art Bell’s most popular shows.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
ad-infeed_1
ads_infeed_2
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like