For four years, the African-American Mentor Program Inc. grew fast, attracting up to 500 St. Paul youths a year looking for a role model to help steer them in the right direction.
But when the nonprofit, statesupported program shut down in 2002, its finances were in question and its books were soon referred for an audit.
On Wednesday, a report from the Minnesota legislative auditor’s office concluded that Duane Dutrieuille, the former executive director, misused $90,000 in state funds for things like a lease on a Dodge Durango, a new house and pay bonuses that he gave himself.
Dutrieuille, a special-education teacher at St. Paul’s Central High School, launched the nonprofit organization in 1997. Contacted Wednesday, he said he hasn’t seen the auditor’s report but defended his management of the mentoring program.
“I explained to them what the money was used for,” he said.
In a letter accompanying the report, Legislative Auditor James Nobles said his office has referred the report to the Ramsey County attorney’s office for possible criminal charges. Dutrieuille said Wednesday he hadn’t heard of that possibility.
The report also was sent to the state attorney general’s office, which could try to recover the funds allegedly misused.
From 1998 through 2002, the state awarded almost $2 million in grants to the African-American Mentor Program, which amounted to about 75 percent of the program’s total funding. The rest came from gifts, grants from private sources and bank loans.
Dutrieuille said Wednesday the Durango was used for program-related purposes. He also said the board of directors was informed of bonuses given to staff, but added, “the board pretty much allowed me to run the business the way I felt.”
The auditor’s report was critical of the lack of oversight in the organization, saying the board “didn’t establish guidelines to control the organization’s financial operation or its expenditure of funds.”
When asked for the names of former board members Wednesday, Dutrieuille declined.
According to a Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service in 2000, the African-American Mentor Program had four board members besides Dutrieuille, including Phyllis Braxton, who had run a teen pregnancy prevention program in St. Paul.
Reached Wednesday, Braxton said she knew Dutrieuille and did agree verbally in the late 1990s to be on the mentoring program’s board. But she never received any follow-up information, never served on the board and never attended any meetings.
The auditor’s report also criticized the state’s Education Department for not properly monitoring the organization’s use of the state grant funds.
The investigation of the mentor program started with a tip to the Education Department in 2002. A visit by department staff showed a lack of proper recordkeeping, and the legislative auditor was asked to investigate.
In a statement Wednesday, Deputy Education Commissioner Chas Anderson said the department already has tightened its monitoring of state and federal funds.
The Rev. Devin Miller, who is president of the Life Skills Development Center in St. Paul, partnered with Dutrieuille’s program at one point.
“The program in and of itself was a good program,” Miller said. “It did work with not just high achievers, but those kids who were hard to reach.” That included kids in elementary through high school grades, as well as referrals that came from the court system for kids who could benefit from good role models.
“For the most part,” Miller said, the mentoring program “grew too big, too fast.” He added that he doesn’t fault Dutrieuille for what happened. “The heart was in the right place, but the management skills were not.”