Head of Chicago Non-Profit Organization Charged With Fraudulently Pocketing State Grants Intended for Economic Development Projects
CHICAGO — The head of a Chicago not-for-profit organization fraudulently converted or misappropriated at least $200,000 in State of Illinois grants intended to develop suburban commercial properties and fund a job training program, according to a 15-count federal indictment.
YESSE YEHUDAH operated the not-for-profit organization Fulfilling Our Responsibilities Unto Mankind, also known as FORUM. From 2013 to 2016, Yehudah, on behalf of FORUM, applied for and received three grants totaling approximately $575,000 from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Two of the grants were intended to develop commercial properties in south suburban Dolton, while the third was meant for FORUM to operate a weatherization jobs training program. The indictment alleges that Yehudah fraudulently converted substantial quantities of the grant funds by making materially false statements and submitting false documents to the DCEO. The indictment describes several of the alleged false statements, including when Yehudah represented to the DCEO that FORUM had spent almost all of a $100,000 grant on construction work, when, in fact, no actual construction work had begun.
The indictment was returned Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Yehudah, 71, of Chicago, is charged with eight counts of bank fraud and seven counts of wire fraud. Arraignment has not yet been scheduled.
The indictment was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Emmerson Buie, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the FBI; and Teri Donaldson, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of the Inspector General. The DCEO provided valuable assistance during the investigation. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean J.B. Franzblau.
In addition to the alleged fraud in obtaining the DCEO grants, the indictment accuses Yehudah of scheming to defraud a bank. After FORUM received similar development grants from the DCEO and other federal and local agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County, Yehudah issued checks from FORUM and another entity he controlled to various subcontractors, the indictment states. Yehudah then forged the subcontractors’ signatures – without their knowledge – to endorse the checks over to himself, the indictment alleges.
The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Each count of bank fraud is punishable by up to 30 years in prison, while each count of wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.