PDT Staff Writer
Mike Gampp has resigned from the board of the recently-defunct Southern Ohio Growth Partnership (SOGP), effective immediately.
In February, Gampp and other board members discovered funds had been improperly allocated, contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and removed Bob Huff as president and CEO. The USDA has been investigating the situation ever since, and now Gampp said the USDA loans that had been given by SOGP, may be transferred to a nearby community.
Gampp said the only function SOGP still possesses is that it technically still owns the loan funds from the loans they issued in the past. Now Gampp says the USDA has tentatively planned on transferring the loan funds to Lawrence County Economic Development Corporation.
“I have been in a couple of meetings with Bill Dingus and we have produced everything that has been requested,” Gampp said. “It is really up to LEDC as to whether they choose to take on the loan funds and to my knowledge, they have not formally accepted to take on this responsibility. But that’s their (USDA) preference. They want to keep it as local to southern Ohio as they can and keep the loan funds operating. My understanding is, if they are unable to do that, they (USDA) will take those loans over and as the loans pay off, shut the portfolio down.”
Gampp had been the last person on the board and was the contact for the state USDA office and he said he had long ago given the agency all of the documentation they had asked for.
Gampp said when the Board discovered the funds had been improperly allocated, members immediately contacted the USDA, engaged an independent auditor, and assumed responsibility for the day-to-day operations of SOGP. Later, Gampp announced for all intents and purposes, SOGP no longer existed.
Gampp said despite several years of audits from private firms, the discrepancies apparently went undetected until recently. It was on Feb. 2, 2012, that the detection of the issues led to a special meeting of the Board with an outside auditor present. The board determined then to remove Huff and to bring in an outside law firm to give the Board a report.
Gampp credited work done by Attorney Josh Howard as important to resolving the problems. Gampp said the USDA has several options as to what they can do, but he said he believes they have confidence in the Board and its efforts.
Gampp said SOGP had provided low-interest loans to those who want to expand or open a business. Funding for many of those loans came from the USDA. He said those funds are restricted, meaning they cannot be used for operating expenses. He added that loan repayments go back into the community, funding future economic development loans.
The discrepancies occurred when it was discovered that the loan payments were being used for operational expenses. The USDA said it was permissible to use the interest on such payments, but not the principle.
As a part of its operations, SOGP received annual audits, which never indicated any improper allocations of funds.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.