Seattle crime diversion group says FBI is investigating former employee for misuse of funds
A Seattle nonprofit that has received city and county funding to help prevent gun violence and build up community safety programs says one of its now former employees is under investigation by the FBI.
The nonprofit Community Passageways said the FBI notified them in May that it was investigating one of the group’s employees for suspected misuse of what may be “a significant amount of money.”
Community Passageways is a nonprofit focused on violence prevention, civic engagement for youth, and creating alternatives to incarceration. It is a key player in multiple community safety partnerships funded by the city of Seattle and King County in recent years.
Community Passageways spokesperson and Chief Operations Officer Katoya Palmer said the FBI notified them in May that the agency was investigating one of their employees for potentially misappropriating the group’s funds. Palmer said Community Passageways terminated the individual immediately, and they are pursuing available options to recover the money.
Palmer said the FBI alerted them to its investigation on May 19. In a statement, she said, “We met with the FBI on Monday May 23rd and were informed that a criminal investigation is being conducted into this person’s activities spanning multiple employers. The FBI assigned a victim coordinator to support us and to keep us informed of developments.” Palmer said no current services or programs are affected by the incident.
Sean Goode is the executive director of Choose 180, a nonprofit with a similar focus that frequently collaborates with Community Passageways.
“It’s important for organizations to go public and be transparent when things like this happen,” Goode said.
The news of the investigation comes as Community Passageways has ramped up quickly in the last few years, and obtained significant public and private contributions for its programs supporting wraparound services for youth, restorative justice and violence prevention. In the wake of racial justice protests in 2020, especially, government officials and private philanthropies have awarded funds to Community Passageways to support new public safety programs that don’t require law enforcement or the courts, and to help address rising gun violence.
Tax filings indicate that Community Passageways raised just over $126,000 as it started its work in 2017. In 2020, the most recent year that a Form 990 is available, that amount had risen steeply to nearly $3.9 million, mostly from grants and charitable contributions.
Community Passageways was founded in 2016 by Dominique Davis, as an extension of his previous work at Choose 180. Both groups work with prosecutors, judges, and families to divert young people facing criminal charges away from the courts and detention and toward community interventions.
Davis has pleaded for urgency in addressing gun violence in Seattle and King County. Gun violence affected the group’s efforts explicitly last spring, when a Community Passageways meeting in a Seattle church was disrupted by a man who fatally shot a 17-year-old participant.
Response from Seattle and King County
Community Passageways has received support from the city and county in recent years, for new efforts like the Regional Peacekeepers Collective, Restorative Community Pathways to divert King County youth facing possible criminal charges, and Seattle’s Community Safety Initiative.
Since 2020, Seattle and King County have together pledged more than $20 million toward the group’s efforts. According to Seattle Director of Communications Jamie Housen, Community Passageways received $7 million total in city contracts over 2020 and 2021, and the city has approved another $7.3 million this fiscal year.
King County has disbursed $3.8 million to Community Passageways since 2020 between two different agencies: Public Health Seattle–King County and the Department of Community and Human Services. That's out of nearly $9 million that they have approved.
Spokespeople for King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Bruce Harrell issued a joint statement declining to comment on what types of funds may be involved, writing, “We learned of an investigation in May from Community Passageways. We are unable to provide further details for what we understand is an ongoing investigation. We would refer you to the investigators and the parties directly involved for information on amounts, types of funds, or the investigation’s status. "
The statement continues, "Seattle and King County remain strongly committed to community-based efforts to address gun violence and will continue to work together to advance solutions that prevent gun violence and support community needs."
King County Communications Director Chase Gallagher said King County has safeguards in place for funds awarded to outside groups.
“For King County, we often take a very hands-on approach with contract recipients to help ensure investments are made as effectively as possible,” he said. “This is done with a combination of tactics including site visits, technical assistance, and accountability reporting, and the contracts involved here are no different. Our program managers also provide monitoring to ensure contract deliverables are being met.”
Housen said Seattle's contracting agency, the Human Services Department, has similar measures: “HSD has contract monitors that provide technical assistance as needed and contract oversight, which includes site visits and monthly monitoring of invoices and performance metric reporting. “
FBI spokesperson Steve Bernd said he can’t comment on Community Passageways’ disclosure.
“We cannot comment on what members of the public report,” he said, adding that Department of Justice policies prohibit them from confirming or denying the existence of an investigation.