Did Councilwoman Sharon Scott use questionable methods to solicit $4,000 or more in donations for her North District Food Drive Committee?
Scott said no, but an official with the Office of Human Affairs said she did not have permission to use the venerable Newport News nonprofit agency to solicit donations.
Internal Revenue Service identification number to solicit a donation to the food drive she runs.
OHA officials said Scott never had authorization to use the organization's tax-exempt number for the food drive. Scott said she did have permission.
"There were no improprieties," Scott said.
The North District Food Drive Committee is not a charity or official nonprofit organization, Scott said. That means it doesn't have a tax-exempt number with the Internal Revenue Service that other nonprofit organizations do under the IRS 501(c)(3) tax code.
Often, corporations ask for the tax-exempt number before donating, for tax accounting purposes.
Scott said she had a financial partnership with the Office of Human Affairs, but two OHA officials, including executive director Wendell Braxton, said that's not true.
Scott said she gave OHA's tax-exempt number to Dominion Resources in 2007, but did not use it in 2009 for Dominion or any other company.
"Nobody asked me for the (tax-exempt) number in '09," Scott said on Friday. "Through the approval of Bill Lester, I gave it out in '07."
But Lester, an OHA director, said he was never involved in any of the North District Food Drive's financial dealings; he merely helped collect and distribute food for Scott's group.
He said the food drive benefits the community, and he is "aghast" about the questions being raised.
Braxton said he's "perplexed" by what he's heard.
"If our tax-exempt number is used, we're the fiscal agent, so that we can have fiscal oversight and be responsible for the funds," he said. "We have no knowledge of the funds coming through (the North District Food Drive) or how they were utilized."
Jim Dupree, a spokesman with the Internal Revenue Service, said he could not comment specifically on the case, but generally there are numerous disclosure requirements that charities must adhere to when soliciting donations.
Chuck Penn, a Dominion Resources spokesman, said Scott filled out paperwork for Dominion in 2007 to solicit funds. No OHA official signed the 2007 paperwork, Penn said. Dominion Resources donated a total of $4,000 from 2007-09.
Wal-Mart gave Scott's group $10,000 in 2009, according to Wal-Mart spokesman Keith Morris. He said Wal-Mart was checking into whether the OHA tax-exempt number was used to solicit the donation.
Scott declined to answer any questions about Wal-Mart.
"I'm not going to make any other statements until we have something good and positive to report," said Scott, who is running for re-election and claims the accusations are politically motivated.
Separately, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is investigating whether Scott's group should be required to register as a charity. A state official said the group is acting like a charity.
The North District Food Drive, run by Newport News Councilwoman Sharon Scott, is not an official charity. But the group has solicited monetary donations from companies, including Wal-Mart and Dominion Resources.
1 To solicit a donation in 2007, Scott used the IRS tax-exempt identification number of the non-profit organization the Office of Human Affairs. OHA officials say that Scott did not have authorization to do so. Scott claims she did have permission.
2 Paperwork signed by Scott in 2007 with Dominion Resources used the OHA's tax-exempt number to solicit a $1,000 donation. No OHA officials signed the paperwork, according to Dominion Resources officials. Dominion has since contributed $3,000 to Scott's group.
3 Wal-Mart gave the North District Food Drive $10,000 in 2009. Wal-Mart officials say they are checking to see whether the OHA's tax-exempt number was used for the donation.