State investigation underway to look at alleged corruption at CPACS
Programming and funding at stake for one of Atlanta area's largest and oldest immigrant serving organizations.
285 South has learned that one of the oldest and largest nonprofits serving immigrant and refugee communities in metro Atlanta is under investigation by Georgia officials. The Georgia Department of Human Service’s Office of Inspector General is investigating corruption claims against leadership at the Center for Pan Asian Community Services (CPACS), according to a source who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.
For weeks, several members of the staff and the board at CPACS have been embroiled in a conflict and now, part of the organization’s funding and programming - that serves over 70,000 people annually in the region - is on the line.
The development comes after weeks of protests by staff members, who have been speaking out after an internal investigation carried out by the law firm Krevolin and Horst reported accounts of financial mismanagement, nepotism, and conflicts of interests violations by CPACS founder and then co-CEO Chaiwon Kim. A number of current and former staff, along with other supporters of CPACS have said the Board has failed to take action to address the issues raised.
The chaos has created an unstable environment - with some programs on hold and many staff members who have taken time out of their work days to take their concerns to the streets.
Protestors gathered in Decatur on Monday, demanding an end to alleged corruption at the organization.
On Monday, 23-year-old Davis Nguyen joined a dozen of his CPACS colleagues on West Ponce de Leon Ave in Decatur to demand an end to the corruption they say has been plaguing the organization. CPACS provides health services, rental assistance, employment services, refugee services, English classes, and after school programs for the region’s growing immigrant communities.
13 years ago, when Nguyen was a rising 5th grader, he enrolled in one of those after school programs. His parents had migrated from Vietnam to the U.S. to find a better life, and for opportunities, he said. He grew up with four sisters, and the only male figure in his life was his dad, who he said was always working. It was at CPACS, he said, that he found his lifelong friends. “The tutors basically raised me.. they were my idols I grew up with…we grew up together through CPACS.” He’s now a project coordinator in the community health department.
Victoria Huynh, the Senior Vice President of CPACS, who has been protesting alongside some staff members, told 285 South that unless there’s a transparent process on how decisions are being made and by whom, the organization will lose funding, connections, and their reputation in the community.
“We're putting all the money in jeopardy…that’s why we’re out here. We need them [CPACS Board] to act immediately,” she said on Monday, at the protest outside of the Georgia Primary Care Association office in Decatur. Three individuals connected to the CPACS Board are on the GPCA board.
Duane Kavka, the CEO of the Georgia Primary Care Association, said he’s been providing support to the CPACS Board and working with them to resolve issues. “This entire matter is an internal one and one that eventually can be settled without all the outside interference, slanderous behavior and bullying so that CPACS can continue to do the good work that they have done for years on behalf of the Pan Asian community. This is a made up, sham controversy designed to malign Mrs. Kim and force her out which will then lead to the leader of the opposition being named CEO,” he said in an email.
Ish Gayle, the current CPACS Board Chair, hasn’t responded to requests for comment.
As for Nguyen, he’s holding out hope that CPACS will survive. “CPACS means a lot to me,” he said, as he stepped away from the protest for a few minutes to talk to me in the shade. “It kind of breaks my heart to see this.”
Davis Nguyen on West Ponce de Leon in Decatur on Monday.
285 South has reached out to The Georgia Department of Human Services for comment and will update this article when that response comes through.
UPDATE AND CLARIFICATION (8/19/22):
Clarification on the three individuals connected to the CPACS Board who are on the GPCA board.
Dr. Brian Williams serves on both the GPCA Board and CPACS Board. I am waiting for official confirmation that he resigned from the CPACS Board this week.
GPCA Board Member Dr. Jennifer McCants was appointed by the CPACS Board as CPAC's Interim CEO, according to a CPACS staff member, who also shared a CPACS email for Dr. McCants. I am awaiting a response from Dr. McCants.
GPCA Board Member, former co-CEO and founder of CPACS Chaiwon Kim is not on the CPACS Board. She is at the center of allegations of corruption, that the CPACS Board has been accused of not taking action to address.
UPDATE (8/25/22): The Georgia Department of Human Services has responded to request for comment on whether its Office of Inspector General is undergoing an investigation into CPACS: "The Department of Human Services (DHS) Office of Inspector General is completing an audit of the payments that have been made to this organization from DHS."
In response to a question about whether funding had been frozen, a GA DHS spokesperson said: "Invoices received from the organization are being scrutinized for accuracy and will not be paid until the audit is completed."