Former Hill House employee files whistleblower suit
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The woman who led the Hill House Economic Development Corp. for more than two years sued its parent organization today, saying she was fired after blowing the whistle on inappropriate use of grant funds that were meant for the Hill District's delayed grocery store project.
Julie C. Matthews, of the Upper Hill District, who led the development arm of the Hill House Association from late 2009 through Feb. 9, 2012, sued in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, alleging violations of the state whistleblower law and wrongful termination. She wants her job back, with back pay and compensatory and punitive damages.
The complaint by attorney Sam Cordes said that Ms. Matthews reported "financial irregularities" to board members and Hill House staff, including current CEO Cheryl Hall-Russell. She found that funds from the Richard King Mellon Foundation of Pittsburgh and The Reinvestment Fund of Philadelphia were restricted to the grocery store project, but were misused in unspecified ways.
Her superiors' "plan was to cover the misuse up," the complaint said, and "to change the coding on checks" in the association's accounting system.
Ms. Matthews continued to sound the alarm internally, the complaint said, and was to make a presentation to a Hill House committee on Feb. 10. She was fired on Feb. 9.
"Using restricted grant money for unrestricted purposes is not proper," said Mr. Cordes. "Changing accounting methods is also not proper, and depending on who relies on [the resulting financial reports] there might be a number of federal or state laws that might be implicated."
Hill House officials could not be immediately reached.
A spokeswoman for The Reinvestment Fund confirmed that the foundation awarded $1 million to the Hill House for the grocery store project, for pre-development costs, and most of that money was released "based on requirements [Hill House] met." She said The Reinvestment Fund was not aware of any concerns about how the money was spent.
The Richard King Mellon Foundation's website said it awarded $525,000 to the grocery store project last year. No one from the foundation could be immediately reached.
The neighborhood group had hoped for a Thanksgiving 2011 opening for the Hill Shop 'n Save, but that did not materialize.
First Published April 10, 2012 5:17 pm