Charity says county commissioner 'raided' donations to foster kids

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) - A county commissioner is accused of diverting donations as Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears exposes what some are calling "Backpackgate."

"Sully was... He was just friend to the underdog. He had a smile for anybody who needed one. You couldn't help but be touched by the light that he had in him and so it just made sense for us to help kids that essentially have nothing -- in a lot of cases, not even a family," Kristen Mainor said, remembering her stepson, Sullivan Mainor, who passed away in January, 2013, just after his ninth birthday.  

His father, Attorney Brad Mainor, and stepmother, Kristen, established the nonprofit foundation "Superheroes 4 Sully" in his name.

"We collect brand new, superhero-themed items to be donated to kids in protective custody, kids in foster care. One of the most vulnerable areas of our society, we try to serve those kids in his name, in his memory," explained Kristen.

The charity works regularly with Peggy's Attic, the donation center for Clark County Department of Family Services, and this year, they were invited to participate in the department's back to school event on the Child Haven campus. 

"We hit the pavement and we collected close to 500 backpacks -- we came in at about 475 for this event," Mainor said.

The July 27 event was packed with backpacks and school supplies donated by Superheroes 4 Sully.  

What began as "a very happy event" turned into "something that didn't appear it should be happening," said Mainor.

As the children and foster parents were coming through, collecting their donated backpacks and school supplies, Mainor says "Some county employees showed up with some trucks. They had on county credentials. They were driving county vehicles. And they started loading the backpacks up."

She came to find out, "These items were being taken for Commissioner Weekly."

Weekly's staff was loading up her donations, taking them away from Peggy's Attic to store for the commissioner's own annual back-to-school fair at the Walnut Recreation Center in his district.

"My reaction was initially disbelief," Mainor said. "Our backpacks that we donated were earmarked for foster children, kids in protective custody, kids that have nothing. These donations were not collected to be donated to Commissioner Weekly's event."

Sources inside Peggy's Attic say they were deeply disturbed by what happened.

The director was willing to talk to us about it, but the county wouldn't let her.  

They wouldn't let us talk to the DFS director either because they are not allowed to speak for the county.     

Kristen Mainor wanted answers from Family Services after learning a senior staffer had given the commissioner permission take the donated items.

"Is this the policy that commissioners -- elected officials no matter who they are or what position they're in -- are they able to come sort of raid the foster kid donations, the Peggy's Attic donations?" Mainor wanted to know.

Contact 13 learned it's not county policy to allow that.  

In fact, it's clearly written that donations to DFS are "For the benefit of DFS and the individuals it serves."  

DFS is also required to provide a letter of appreciation and a receipt to the donor including the purpose and estimated value of the donation, but that didn't happen in this case.

"And that just doesn't sit right with me. If he can raise funds to be elected, he can certainly raise funds to gather backpacks and supplies for his own event."

Commissioner Weekly agreed to talk to us about it, saying, "I thought everything was fine until you called me."

Weekly says he's been doing his back to school fair for about 14 years.  

It targets an underserved community but is open to anyone.

"And this year kind of threw a monkey wrench in our game with school starting early. So this is one of those ones we kind of found ourselves a little bit behind the gun. Yeah."

Darcy Spears: How did you come to the decision to have your staff go to Peggy's Attic and take backpacks and supplies from that?
Lawrence Weekly: Well, it wasn't so much 'take.' It just kind of at the time was a quick solution to a problem that needed to be resolved fast.

But the Peggy's Attic event for kids in the child welfare system was held on July 27.  

Weekly's back to school fair was almost two weeks later on August 8.

"He had plenty of time to go get his own stuff," Mainor said.

After she wrote a letter to the county manager and Commission Chair Steve Sisolak, Weekly called her to explain.

"Lord knows I would never want Superheroes 4 Sully or any other donors out there to feel bad or feel like we've taken advantage of them," said Weekly.

He told Kristen Mainor, "He didn't have time to go to the store."

Darcy Spears: He said those words?
Kristen Mainor: Yes. "I didn't have time to go to the store."

Darcy Spears: You were trying to save your staff time going to the store?
Lawrence Weekly: Absolutely! Save everybody time. The whole gist of it, Darcy, is, it was a, like I indicated it was a situation where time had run out on us as far as getting ourselves prepared. 

He says there was a surplus of donated items at the Peggy's Attic event, but Peggy's Attic denies that.  

They tell Contact 13 there's no such thing as a surplus for them because they serve children who cycle through the system throughout the year.

Weekly maintains there were excess backpacks and supplies at the Child Haven event, which he offered to buy.

Lawrence Weekly: We're all on the same team. I'm thinking that, you know, if I can get some of your backpacks on that day, writing a check that day...
Darcy Spears: But it wasn't received until August 20.
Lawrence Weekly: Well, it didn't matter. I could have given it to them that day.

He says he tried to give them money that day but the DFS director wouldn't take it.

After Mainor wrote to the county and Contact 13 began investigating, he sent a check for $3500.

Darcy Spears: The Peggy's Attic folks who I spoke to expressed a concern that receiving money for donated items made them feel like they were selling donations -- made them feel dirty, in a way.  
Lawrence Weekly: Well, you know, I think that, again, coming from the top there was a miscommunication in that and, if I had felt that way, I probably would not have cashed the check. I would have returned it. And that was not the case.

We asked about the county policy that specifically says donations are for the individuals DFS serves.

Darcy Spears: It appears that the actions that your office took violated county policy.
Lawrence Weekly: I don't know if it's, it, it, it's viol... It violated county policy. If we can serve any kid of Clark County and make them feel special, make them feel like their community cares about them and know that we can help, that's what it's all about and so violating a policy, we don't do that. Maybe bringing it up to date and modernizing it and maybe going in and tweaking it and making it a little bit better so that we don't have a miscommunication like this again, yeah, that's what we're doing."

At the end of the day, he says it's about backpacks being donated to children and making sure all kids are taken care of, but added, "I think lesson learned. Early preparation will keep us from being here at the table having this conversation with you, so lesson learned."

The county issued the following statement:

"It is important to note that every child at the DFS event who needed a backpack and school supplies received them. Leftover backpacks and supplies were sent to Peggy’s Attic for future use by children in our care. Commissioner Weekly is a staunch advocate for these abused and neglected children and was also a donor in contributing school supplies to help make the event a success. He also cares deeply for the underprivileged children who attended the back-to-school event at Walnut. Because of the surplus at the first event, permission was sought and received from staff to use some of the supplies for the benefit of disadvantaged children at Walnut.  To make Peggy’s Attic whole, Cmsr. Weekly has written the agency a check. This check will serve to provide Peggy’s Attic greater flexibility by purchasing other necessities to meet the needs of items they are deficient in.
 
We greatly appreciate the work of our volunteers and nonprofit partners, without whom we could not be successful in addressing the many needs of children and families in this community. In terms of donations, it is important that donors’ wishes are respected and that donations go exactly where the donors intended. As such, we are updating our policy to reflect this principle."

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