Email exchange: Obama tried to steer $10 million to Chicago nonprofit under investigation
While he was a sitting U.S. Senator, Barack Obama attempted to steer $10 million in taxpayer money to a Chicago nonprofit under investigation for potential fraud, according to an email sent by the nonprofit’s then-director of operations.
Former Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF) director of operations Vincent Davis sent an email dated June 10, 2007 to Eric Brandmeyer, an official at an Illinois hospital trying to implement SALF’s controversial first-aid training programs at a local school district. Davis assured Brandmeyer that public funding for SALF would remain strong in the aftermath of a local media report on the group’s potentially fraudulent activities.
“Naturally, I am aware of the recent press from ABC of Chicago and am concerned about SALF funding. Please give me your thoughts on the future of SALF funding in our area,” Brandmeyer wrote to Davis on June 5, 2007.
“All is ok regarding funding, and we are getting Obama to help push through our legislation for an additional 10 million which is part of the Homeland Security bill,” Davis wrote in his June 10 reply email.
SALF officials believed that their organization would be the intended recipient of at least $10 million in federal funding from the Community Response System Initiative (CRSI) Act of 2006, introduced by then-Minnesota senator Norm Coleman.
Davis’ email also disparaged the reporting of ABC of Chicago reporter Chuck Goudie and whistleblower Peter Heimlich, who helped bring SALF’s potential fraud to light in 2006.
“I’m not surprised that Mr. Davis would make false and absurd allegations about me and reporter Chuck Goudie,” Heimlich told The Daily Caller. “Since hardly any kids received first aid training, what happened to the millions of tax dollars awarded to SALF for that purpose?”
Davis did not immediately return a request for comment for this story, but he told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald that his email does not necessarily mean that Obama was more invested in SALF’s future than other Illinois politicians of the time.
“Some supported it, others didn’t. As far as any specific person supporting it, I don’t recall at this point which ones did and which ones didn’t,” Davis said. “There was probably other emails (that mentioned other legislators). There was nothing special about this one.”
As The Daily Caller reported, Democratic Illinois senator Dick Durbin, a former SALF “Advisory Council” member, also urged a U.S. Senate subcommittee chairman to appropriate $1 million in federal funds for SALF in 1999.
The Save-A-Life Foundation is reportedly under investigation for misappropriating potential millions of dollars in taxpayer money by the Illinois Attorney General’s Charitable Trusts Bureau.
The controversial nonprofit, which received nearly $9 million in federal and Illinois state funding to teach schoolchildren CPR and the Heimlich maneuver, dissolved in 2009 but is still under investigation amid claims that it misrepresented the number of children it provided services to and of “money unaccounted for.”
“We can’t really find anywhere that there were a lot of kids that were trained. There may have been some kids, but not the claims that were made in the thousands or tens of thousands. It doesn’t seem to exist,” Illinois state Sen. Tim Bivins said in March.
Former Chicago schools CEO and current Obama administration Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in 2006 that it seemed unlikely that the Foundation could have trained as many children as it claimed. The Foundation previously claimed that it trained more than 1 million schoolchildren, which would have conceivably brought thousands of EMTs and other outside employees into classrooms.
“There’s money unaccounted for through Save-A-Life,” Bivins added.
Save-A-Life also purchased a building in Springfield, Ill., with $200,000 in state grants in 2003, only to sell that building to a private owner upon its dissolution in 2009 without reporting the location of the sale money to the Illinois Attorney General.
Illinois resident Carol Spizzirri founded the Save-A-Life Foundation in 1993 to teach emergency life-saving procedures to students after her own daughter Christina died in what Spizzirri she claimed was a hit-and-run car crash, reportedly due to the first responders’ inability to provide first aid.
It was later reported, however, that Spizzirri’s daughter died at a hospital, rather than at the scene of the crash, as Spizzirri claimed, and that she did not die in a hit-and-run but rather in a single-car crash that resulted after she drove with an illegal blood alcohol level. Spizzirri’s claim to be a registered nurse was also disputed, as no records exist to support her claim. Spizzirri now lives in southern California.
SALF claimed in 2006 that Obama was a staunch supporter of the foundation and that he even met with Spizzirri while in the U.S. Senate to discuss her organization’s goals.
“Save A Life Foundation (SALF) President and Founder Carol Spizzirri recently spoke with U.S. Senator Barack Obama and Illinois Congresswoman Melissa Bean regarding SALF’s future lifesaving efforts,” according to a Feb. 27, 2006, SALF news release that featured a photograph of then-Sen. Obama.
“While in the Illinois legislature together, Obama and current Illinois Senate President Emil Jones were always supportive of SALF’s efforts to train Illinois schoolchildren in life-sustaining skills for free. … Spizzirri says she looks forward to implementing SALF’s future goals with both U.S. Senator Obama and Congresswoman Bean on a national level,” according to the SALF news release.
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.