A New Haven alderwoman pleaded guilty Monday to embezzling $49,059 from a local nonprofit that provides services to residents of New Haven public housing while she worked as the organization’s executive director.
Ward 28 Alderwoman Barbara Rawls-Ivy admitted in court that she had stolen federal grant money on 39 occasions from the Alliance for Strong Communities that had been earmarked for reducing illegal drug use within New Haven Housing Authority-managed properties. Although Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and board President Carl Goldfield both have urged her to step down from the Board of Aldermen, Rawls-Ivy said Monday evening that she has not yet decided whether she will resign her seat.
Rawls-Ivy faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. As part of her plea, she must also repay the $49,059.
“I accept full responsibility,” Rawls-Ivy said.
The mayor said in a statement released Monday that he was glad the alderwoman has taken responsibility for her actions but that she should resign her seat on the board.
“I have spoken with her and conveyed my belief that she should step down, in the best interest of everyone concerned,” DeStefano said. “Ultimately, however, I recognize that it is her decision.”
Rawls-Ivy, who represents a ward in the western part of New Haven, was respected on the board for her dedication to youth issues. Known by the nickname “Babz”, she had been a supporter of DeStefano’s efforts this past summer to provide after-school and summer programs for teenagers.
“She’s adopted a number of children, and she’s providing them with a really great home environment,” said Goldfield, who represents Ward 29, right next to Rawls-Ivy’s Ward 28. “I like her as a person.”
Nevertheless, Goldfield said he believes Rawls-Ivy has compromised the trust placed in her as an elected official by embezzling funds from the Alliance.
“This is a serious offense that she’s pled guilty to, so it’s hard to imagine how she can continue,” he said. “Our currency is the public trust, as an elected official.”
This is not the first scandal to affect the board. In 1998, DeStefano fired his top mayoral aide, Andrea Jackson-Brooks, after it was revealed that she had violated federal conflict-of-interest rules by accepting an interest-free loan from a city agency whose mission was to assist lower-income New Haven residents. Jackson-Brooks currently serves as the Ward 4 alderwoman, and some of her colleagues said her ability to serve her constituents was not hampered by her prior error.
“[Jackson-Brooks] is really one of the more effective aldermen in terms of how she deals with colleagues,” Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01 said.
But Chen said losing the trust of constituents would make it difficult for a public official to function effectively, and she questioned whether Rawls-Ivy would be able to retain that trust after having pleaded guilty.
“It would really be hard to excuse yourself out of embezzlement, so it would be very difficult for Babz to explain this in a way that would satisfy her constituents, but at the same time I want to hear her side,” Chen said.
Rawls-Ivy will be sentenced at a hearing Dec. 4.