Report: Milwaukee nonprofit under review for suspicious use of COVID relief funds

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A 53-year-old founder of a Milwaukee nonprofit is under fire for how she used COVID relief money, according to a report from Wisconsin Watch and Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR).

The report from Wisconsin Watch and WPR says, Cynthia Brown -- also known as CeCe -- founded CRC Employment and Entrepreneurial Services Inc. in 2015 as a nonprofit organization to “address the socioeconomic needs of disenfranchised communities and individuals through entrepreneurship and professional development,” according to the company’s website.

Brown’s nonprofit was given $2.95 million of the Diverse Business Assistance Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA), according to the report.

Brown, according to the report, said in the application she planned to use the money to, “close the educational and technical assistance gap for 500 diverse businesses in the areas of administrative support, soft skills, networking, and financial literacy to both new and established business owners in underserved communities of Wisconsin."

Wisconsin Watch and WPR said in their report that Brown spent the entirety of the first grant payment -- $1 million -- in just five months and did not provide the state with adequate documentation of how she was spending the money.

Brown's contract was suspended with the state. Some of the expenses that raised red flags with the state, according to the report, including a bowling party, food from DoorDash, and cellphone bills.

Gov. Tony Evers announced the Diverse Business Assistance Grant Program in October of 2021. Between March 2020 and June 2022, The Evers administration received $5.7 billion through federal COVID relief programs.

A total of 38 organizations, including Brown's, received the grants, the report says.

A DOA spokesperson told Wisconsin Watch and WPR Brown's contract is the only one being suspended and all other recipients of the grants are being tracked by the end of the year.

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