The progress an army of civic leaders have made turning around the Meadows neighborhood on the northeast side is a feel-good story if there ever were one.
Nearly $70 million in investment has flowed into the area since the renaissance began with the opening of the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School in 2004 and the Challenge Foundation Academy two years later.
A who’s who of Indianapolis business and community leaders knew that while the charter schools were a good first step, they weren’t enough to provide stability and opportunity in a swath of East 38th Street ravaged by crime and poverty.
So their ambitions grew, and checkbooks began to open. Warren Buffett was on hand in 2011 to help break ground on the $27 million East Village of Avondale apartments, funded in part with a $5 million loan from Atlanta-based Purpose Built Communities, which he cofounded. And last summer, construction began on a $17 million health and wellness center, including a medical clinic and YMCA.
But there’s an ugly underside to this story, at least according to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, which late last month charged the former executive director of the Meadows Community Foundation with corrupt business influence and seven counts of theft.
Court records say that after becoming the foundation’s sole employee in June 2011, Trevor Bradley burned through $170,000 in eight months “with little or no progress made in the foundation’s initiative.”
The records say that after board members began questioning Bradley in the spring of 2012 about why only $22,000 remained in bank accounts, Bradley admitted using some of the funds for personal expenses, including merchandise from Gucci and Neiman Marcus, airline tickets and a stay at a Ritz Carlton hotel.
Further digging turned up other problems, including payments to a consulting firm Bradley formed, payments to friends and the purchase of a $378 Dyson vacuum that was shipped to his home.
In total, court records allege that Bradley, 47, racked up nearly $38,000 in illegal expenditures before being fired from the $60,000-a-year job in April 2012.
The allegations stick in the craw of foundation Chairman John Neighbours, a Faegre Baker Daniels partner who has worked for years to improve the area.
“If these facts as alleged in the criminal charges are true, then it is certainly disappointing and in my mind is no different than stealing money out of the kettle of a Salvation Army volunteer,” he said.
Foundation directors now acknowledge they failed to thoroughly vet Bradley. Had they done so, they would have unearthed something alarming: a 1994 forgery conviction stemming from a bogus-check cashing spree. Under a plea agreement, he served two years at a work-release center.
Bradley “had been on the board of a neighborhood organization, and that caused him to come with a high recommendation,” Neighbours said. “We probably skipped a step.”
Bradley’s attorney, Jack Crawford, said that if board members have issues with Bradley’s spending, they should be pursuing a civil lawsuit, not criminal charges.
He noted that former Marsh Supermarkets CEO Don Marsh did not face criminal charges after the chain accused him of a far-larger scheme to use company funds for personal expenses. Instead, the company won a $2.2 million civil judgment against him.
Bradley, who is on home detention as he awaits trial, could face up to 29 years in prison if found guilty on all charges.
“It seems someone is trying to make an example of Mr. Bradley,” Crawford said.
The foundation hasn’t hired a successor to Bradley because it has begun working more closely with the United North East Community Development Corp. and its director, Amandula Anderson.
Even as the criminal case plays out, good things are happening in the area, Neighbours said. The foundation in 2011 bought a troubled apartment complex and has cleared the site.
The now-complete East Village of Avondale apartments are 99-percent leased. And this summer’s opening of the wellness center will provide an important amenity for area residents, many of whom don’t drive.
Yet there’s more to be done. Neighbours says the City-County Council must set aside political squabbles and approve a tax-increment-financing district for the area—an essential step to spurring badly needed retail development, especially a grocery store.
But the area has come a long way—progress that would not have been possible had neighborhood and civic leaders not devoted their time and clout.
“If someone took money from us, it is an egregious form of criminal activity,” Neighbours said. “It seems particularly egregious in light of the volunteer spirit that has otherwise been brought to bear on this process.”•