LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A Las Vegas non-profit organization dedicated to providing shelters for the homeless, is closing down after it claimed one of its founders misappropriated funds.

In a statement published on the organization’s website, New Leaf said cofounder Joseph Lankowski spent more than $32,000 of the group’s money at various casinos. In all the co-founder is accused of taking around $36,000.

According to the organization, the investigation into the missing funds began in the fall of 2021.

New Leaf says it will donate the remaining funds and some equipment to organizations it has worked with in the past.

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Letter Published by New Leaf

To our beloved community,

Thank you for your patience as we share this unfortunate news. As we previously announced, New Leaf is dissolving due to the improper use of funds.

New Leaf was founded by Joey and Robert in July 2020. Since then, the group grew to include many members of the community as volunteers, donors, and contributors to our mission. As a small community mutual aid organization, all of the community donations were originally handled by Joey alone. In September 2021, Robert and Joey created a joint account to help Joey in managing the money.

In August of this year, as the group was looking into incidents involving accounts of intimate partner violence (IPV) by Joey, Robert disclosed that Joey had misappropriated New Leaf funds during relapses with addiction, totaling $32,000 spent at various casinos.

Upon noticing the initial unfaithful withdrawal from the shared account in Fall 2021, Robert confronted Joey about the significant missing funds. Robert gave Joey the opportunity to come clean about the money to the group and told him to come up with a plan to return the missing funds. Robert gave Joey a week to do so, and initially, Joey agreed to figure out a plan and tell the group. However, he never did, and Robert did not hold him accountable, leading to further charges.

In December 2021, there was an additional unfaithful $12 charge made to the account via a card under Joey’s name. After this charge, Robert took away access to Joey’s card, but he still had access to payment apps connected to the account, and more questionable transactions occurred in April. There were no other unfaithful transactions from the account until August 2022, when there were multiple withdrawals from Venmo and PayPal. The charges in August equated to $1,175. However, Robert disputed these charges at the bank, and they were returned to the account. Altogether, Joey has stolen over $36,000 over the course of the past 10 months.

The rest of the group did not find out about any of these incidents until August 24th. Since then, Joey has willingly surrendered account information, and we have removed him from access to all New Leaf accounts, financial and otherwise. We have also canceled all recurring donations from the community through platforms like Patreon, PayPal, and our website.

It is important to note that in many ways, New Leaf and Food Not Bombs Las Vegas are tied together because of Joey’s role in both groups. However, nobody in New Leaf has access to any Food Not Bombs Las Vegas accounts. As a result, we cannot guarantee that Joey’s access to donations to Food Not Bombs Las Vegas has been revoked, and discourage donations to our local chapter. This consideration is part of our further investigation into the misuse of funds.

It has also come forward that Joey used the social media accounts of several organizations to contact and harass individuals who had blocked him through other means. This is another unfortunate example of the abuse of power that has taken place over the past few months.

For the sake of transparency, we felt it was necessary to inform the community of these events. At this time, we have agreed as a group that New Leaf has betrayed the trust of the community and feel that it no longer makes sense to continue as an organization.

We still firmly believe in the accountability process and restorative justice. Therefore, we want to work to ensure the harm caused is addressed and the money is repaid to the community. As a collective, we wish the best for Joey as he works to address his personal struggles with trauma, addiction and chaotic drug use; we do not seek to reduce Joey’s full and complex humanity to his worst mistakes. However, as an abolitionist org, we believe in redemption, which means we firmly believe that he needs to address the harm done on all accounts.

We are hurt, embarrassed, and disheartened. We are deeply disappointed by the harm that has been done to our community, the work, and the movement. Most of all, we are deeply sorry to the community for this breach of trust, the loss of funds that should have been used to help our neighbors, and the lack of transparency. Although we are dissolving, we are not aiming to absolve ourselves of the damage done.

At this time, we are working on gaining access to all of the financial records, including bank statements, card transactions, and PayPal records to assess all of the damage done and present accurate information to the community. We plan on having financial statements released in the next two weeks.

Since our beginning, we have been powered by the support of the community, including donors and volunteers.  Because these events have affected all of those who have supported this movement and the community as a whole, we feel it is important that other community members have input on this process. As a result, we are organizing a forum with community groups and leaders to discuss next steps.

In the meantime, to ensure that we have complete input on our next steps, we encourage anyone to reach out to newleafcommunitylv@gmail.com with their thoughts. We welcome community input as we determine a way forward on the following discussion items and aim to create a proper restorative justice process:

Remaining funds: As a group, we have proposed that the remaining funds in our account could be donated to community organizations that have worked with and supported New Leaf previously, such as More Than A Hashtag, Mass Liberation, Fifth Sun Project, Las Vegas Liberation, The Solidarity Fridge and UMOK. We feel this should also include trusted individuals in the community who routinely do food shares and support our houseless community, and the community members we briefly housed in April 2022 before the government destroyed our property.

Stolen money: We are currently discussing a proper accountability process to rectify the wrong of money being taken from community funds as well as Robert’s role in keeping the information from the community for as long as he did. Ideas have included the concept of monthly repayments to the community. We have also been informed about concerns of stolen funds earlier than Fall 2021, and believe community input is important in determining an approach for further investigation.

Property: In November 2021, New Leaf purchased a piece of undeveloped property in North Las Vegas under Joey’s name. Due to zoning violations which ultimately led to the destruction of the property by the state and police in April 2022, there is now a lien on the property. Robert is working with Joey and is currently trying to find a lawyer who could help fight the liens and prevent the property from being repossessed (read: stolen) by the state. If successful in fighting off the liens, the property could be sold and the money redistributed to the community organizations listed above.

Trailers: New Leaf has four unregistered trailers, three of which have huts installed on them.  We have discussed that trailers could be donated to members of the community that can use them. Depending on the request of the organization, we will either leave the Conestoga huts attached or repurpose them.

UMOK: Since the beginning of New Leaf, UMOK has always supported us by allowing us to build and store our materials there. We are planning on cleaning up UMOK and removing all materials. There are also 7 unassembled Conestoga huts located at UMOK that could still be built and distributed to those in need. 

We are committed to complete transparency throughout this process and are open to any questions. Anyone with detailed questions or concerns can email us at newleafcommunitylv@gmail.com as we work through this process. We will be working to make this right however we can. Our goal is to put the houseless community we have served at the forefront of our decisions.

We extend our deepest gratitude to each of our supporters who have shown up for us over the last 2+ years. Again, we are sorry for what has happened and we apologize for the delay in sharing the details as we have been trying to sort things out. We look forward to discussing next steps with the community and hope to do what we can to make this right.

We will continue to provide updates about this process.

Sincerely,
New Leaf

Letter published by newleafcommunity.org