Raleigh business incubator needs to be cleaned up

July 5, 2013 

It’s said the best-laid plans often go astray. Whether the Raleigh Business and Technology Center in Southeast Raleigh was a case of best-laid plans is in doubt, but it’s clear that things went astray. The center opened in 2000 with roughly $1.5 million in federal and city money. Last year, the city gave the center, which is supposed to encourage business development, $149,000.

But last year, the center lost its nonprofit status for the utterly ridiculous reason that it didn’t file the required 990 disclosure forms with the Internal Revenue Service for three years. Now a city audit has found a mess.

The audit covered financial management and two incubator programs between July 2010 and December 2012. It found insufficient or missing documentation for payments made by the center, found nearly $4,000 in loans made to the center’s executive director, Robert Robinson, loans to a church where a pastor is a board member, $290,000 in payments for services to a group co-founded by Robinson. The audit also found the center owes $57,500 in payroll taxes to the Internal Revenue Services.

The center is moving out of its location and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane has the police investigating the organization for fraud.

Two prominent members of the community have been involved with the center, Lawrence Wray, former assistant city manager and Prezell Robinson, former president of St. Augustine’s University. Prezell Robinson, who’s 92, was surprised to learn he’s still listed as board chairman since he hasn’t been to a meeting in five years. Wray, who is board chairman, agrees the center needed better oversight but thinks it should continue. He said he had “no idea what stuff was going on,” which is not a good reflection of his leadership.

For now, the center must be shut down. The city might decide to reopen it, but at that point it should be under the direct supervision of the City Manager’s Office.

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