Simms: ‘Illegal activity’ at SoNoCC has been overlooked

NORWALK, Conn. – South Norwalk Councilman Travis Simms, who has been unsuccessful in his quest to get funding for a boxing program in his name, on Tuesday alleged “illegal activity” at the South Norwalk Community Center (SoNoCC).

Simms and fellow District B council member Phaedral “Faye” Bowman worked in tandem at Tuesday night’s Comon Council meeting to discredit the center, which had been recommended for $100,000 in federal Community Block Grant Development funding after going through the lengthy process with other non-profits vying for limited funds. Because it was not on the agenda, they were prohibited from discussing the Travis Simms Foundation, which was not recommended for funding. The recommended CDBG list of funding recipients was eventually approved on a 12-3 vote – the other nay vote coming from South Norwalk Councilwoman Sharon Stewart (D-At Large) – after plenty of accusations were hurled.  

Minority Leader Travis Simms (D-District B).

Simms and Bowman, a Travis Simms Foundation board member, said the alleged irregularities at SoNoCC were comparable to those at the imminently defunct Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON). Councilwoman Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R-District D) asked why they were bringing forward the allegations at this late date – the vote on the proposed funding needed to be made Tuesday. Simms said he had mentioned it to Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large), Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) and Mayor Harry Rilling in January and February. All three said Simms had come up with nothing substantial.

Hempstead began the debate by saying that no one is given a blank check with CDBG funding. Work must be done and bills submitted, he said. Then reimbursement is made, and if anything is suspect the request is denied.

Bowman said SoNoCC’s application was suspect because it listed her and Simms as board members well after they were no longer on the board. The bylaws of the organization require 10 board members and there are only four, she said.

“They issued a document that said they couldn’t have financial records that can be audited because they were operating under NEON,” she said. “However, I know they had financials coming in and then they also got CDBG funding so they obviously had financials that could be audited.”

That last was a reference to the $100,000 granted to the South Norwalk Community Center in the 2013 CDBG go-round. The renovations that grant is intended to fund have not yet begun, although potential contractors recently toured the building as part of a bidding process, SoNoCC Deputy Director Pat Ferrandino said recently.

I just want it on the record that today I have an issue with this application so that when it comes back to bite us like NEON did, hey, I am on record as speaking up,” Bowman said.

Simms, the former World Boxing Association Super Welterweight (154-pound) champion, threw tougher punches, referring to “illegal activity” at the center.

“I think there is more exposure there than there was with NEON,” he said. “I truly believe we should not be allocating any sort of funding to the South Norwalk Community Center, especially when you have a chairman who uses the finances of this organization at his leisure. We have tons of documentation of that substantiate that.”

It’s a disservice to continue funding SoNoCC, which shows “poor judgment” among council members and Redevelopment Agency staff members, he said. As SoNoCC board members, he and Bowman had seen illegal activity and confronted it on numerous occasions, he said. Their removal from the board was suspect, he said.

“That’s kind of disturbing to know that for a non-profit organization you have a board of directors and you have a chairman who thinks he has the authority to just dismantle the whole board at his leisure,” Simms said. “I think what the major issue is he wants to dismantle the board of any individuals who challenge his spending habits. I think we should be very careful and mindful not to reward organizations with funding when there are other organizations out there who need this kind of funding. … This organization has been operating like this for many, many years. I have conveyed this time and time again and I am just up to my wits with it, I need someone to listen and make a stand with me on this.”

Petrini said this was the first time he had heard about this. If there allegations were true they would be examined, and the checks and balances system would take place, he said.

No one from SoNoCC was present at the meeting to respond.

Hempstead said Simms’ previous comments had been “innuendo.”

“We wouldn’t be here if there was actually physical evidence and reports and a whole bunch of stuff and reports that there is something going on,” Hempstead said. “But having said that, also be mindful that I think the only reason there is funding for the South Norwalk Community Center for this phase is because the board of education has sought out and worked with the South Norwalk Community Center to have its after-school program for the (District) 99 kids. That is the reason we are here this evening and this is forward. I think without the school support for this in a letter of request, they probably would not have gotten funding this year because we have allocated money in the previous years.”

Plus, “If there is something inappropriate, if there is information that should have been shared with others …  I would have hoped it would have come forward by now,” he said.

Simms said he had spoken to Petrini and Hempstead “whether they want to own it or not.” He described “candid conversations,” but agreed he had not submitted any of the alleged documentation substantiating “illegal activity.”

“Making a statement that ‘something is going on’ or ‘something is not right’ doesn’t make it so,” Hempstead said. “I think we hear that about every government agency there is, and if you ask most people there is something going on even with us. OK? So unless the facts come forward to support the argument it becomes hard to say that something isn’t right. … If we’ve got a mistake in here for $100,000 then we can fix it as it comes up, but please bring forward the information to help us and the staff make the recommendation.”

Before calling for a vote, Rilling took the time to defend himself from Simms’ accusation.

“I’ve heard vague references but never has anybody presented any documents or any proof that there is any impropriety in any area that I have been dealing in,” said Rilling, former Norwalk Police chief. “Had that happened, I think with my background that everybody can rest assured that I would have looked at the proper action, and taken the proper action.”


9 responses to “Simms: ‘Illegal activity’ at SoNoCC has been overlooked”

  1. Casey Smith

    Sour grapes!

  2. things that makes you go hmmmmm

    The same people that was with Neon are the same people now. Example Dough Hempstead, Bob Duff, Bobby Burgers and more and now you have them in other places. Investigate the whole town of Norwalk. Everyone knew what was going on and still doing nothing but filling their pockets. Something smells fishy.

  3. Po Nine

    Can we be real for a second…

    Travis, Faye and Warren were all allies fighting to improve south norwalk and change the culture of its politics. They were all part of a strong coalition behind a mayoral candidate last year. Now, with the outcome of the election, the divisive politics of the past remain.

    Pena moves forward to challenge Morris, something that has been discussed for quite some time. The discussion was either him or Simms to make the challenge. Simms passed and encouraged Pena.

    Then comes the old players seeking opportunity to divide and accomplish it along racial lines. Blacks vs Latinos which is unfortunate. The old timers then go to Simms and say “give Bruce one more term, then we’ll “give’ it to you” – you know, it’s a “black seat” — so now, Simms goes anti Pena.

    Bruce wants to get his 10 years for the pension (there goes that pension thing again). He has no plans to give that seat up, especially to Simms, a noted enemy until recent. But the old timers are smart. Use Simms, get him out of the coalition, hurt Pena, get Bruce to win and when two years comes around, Simms has no political allies…none. They discard him like a burner phone on a Breaking Bad episode.

    Keep in mind these are the same people that didn’t nominate Simms for re-election in 2011…

    Divide and conquer politics, come on now. You can outsmart some, but not all.

  4. SMH

    Perhaps the NoN people could reach out to Simms and co and ask them to submit specific proof? Or Mr Simms could write an open letter to NoN?

  5. Piberman

    The real issue here is not the accusations. But whether the City has done “due diligence”. Judging from the City’s past reluctance to even demand NEON financial reports and Doug Hempstead’s reluctance as a NEON Board member to require competent management we all know where this story us headed. More of the same with new photo opportunities for our “concerned leaders” who failed us before. Here’s a chance for Mayor Rilling to do due diligence ahead of time and protect taxpayer monies. Not turn the cheek. And for Doug a Hempstead as Council President to exert “respected” leadership.

  6. Mr Norwalk Ct

    I give up.. Who’s on second.

  7. Bill

    This guy runs a hamburger truck, why is he in government and why the heck should we trust his opinion or judgment?

  8. RU4REAL

    @ Bill, Tarvis Simms has the food truck not Travis.

  9. Bill

    Ok, my bad on that one, I just like talking ish. What does Travis for for a living anyway?

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