The All Dorchester Sports and Leadership (ADSL) program is getting a financial boost this week after an investigative report on WBZ-TV documented the organization’s struggles after it was targeted by a contractor who allegedly swindled the group out of thousands of dollars.
The interior designer, James Swan, was paid $13,500 by ADSL in 2014, but failed to do any of the work he promised or return the funds to the program, the news station’s I-Team reported. ADSL then sued him and recovered about half of the money. After that, Swan stopped communicating with the non-profit.
Candice Gartley, the executive director of ADSL, met Swan through participation in a networking event in 2014. According to I-Team reporter Ryan Kath, Swan spoke with Gartley at the event and offered to install security lighting at the organization’s property at a discounted cost.
After receiving a grant for the light installation, ADSL paid Swan $13,500 to complete the project. For months, the program waited for him to begin the work, with Gartley reaching out to him several times, only to receive excuses in return. A year passed, and still no action from Swan, the report noted.
“The scam jeopardized our ability to grow and create reliable relationships with our funders,” Gartley said. “We didn’t have money. I am the only full-time employee. I missed a few paychecks and we struggled to engage people.”
Despite the setback, enrollment in ADSL programs grew over the course of several years. Gartley and her team went from planning activities for 200 children to facilitating programs for more than 1,200 Dorchester youths. Even as ADSL fostered relationships with the neighborhood’s children and families, the non-profit struggled to establish lasting financial connections.
“All the folks I work with are part-time,” Gartley said. “But they told me I didn’t have to pay them until I got the money back—these are young people fresh out of college. They cared so much about the organization that they were willing to make huge sacrifices for the kids.”
In its successful suit against Swan, ADSL won a judgment for more than double its initial $13,500 outlay. At first, Swan paid ADSL about $7,000 and said he would pay the rest of the money back over time. After that, there was no further communication between him and the program despite ADSL’s multiple attempts to contact him.
Gartley contacted the I-Team and described the situation. The team discovered that Gartley’s experience was not an isolated incident; in states across the nation, Swan had reportedly taken thousands of dollars from companies and programs for work he never completed.
“He didn’t rip everybody off,” Gartley said. “I don’t know how he picked his victims. But I was so angry—he messed with my kids.”
Since ADSL’s story first aired on CBS Boston on Oct. 30, Gartley has received calls, messages, and emails from people across the country who expressed shock and outrage over her experience.
Laurie Laizure, a designer in the Greater Boston area and founder of the Interior Design Community, reached out to Gartley, asking how she could help. She then started a GoFundMe campaign on ADSL’s behalf and set a goal of $25,000 to help ADSL meet some of its most immediate needs.
Although Laizure and other donors do not know Swan personally, they say they feel compelled to help ADSL and demonstrate that his business practices are not part of a greater, industry-wide phenomenon.
“The overriding sentiment is that the designers are horrified about what happened,” Gartley said. “This is a disgraceful example for the industry. The designers want to come back and show that this case was the result of just one bad apple.”
In just three days, some 160 people donated to the campaign, raising close to $17,000. Gartley and her team are extremely grateful for the funds, which will go directly to programming for the children ADSL supports. “We received all this help because of the media,” Gartley said. “We’d be back in the same boat if Ryan Kath didn’t pick up our story for the I-Team.”