A top fundraiser for former president Barack Obama confessed to misusing more than $600,000 in federal grant money and embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from a nonprofit dedicated to helping impoverished youth, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.
Howard Dixon Slingerland, who raised nearly $750,000 for both of Obama’s presidential campaigns, illegally took federal grant money to pay off more than $600,000 of his organization’s payroll and credit card debts, which included personal expenses. The $1.5 million grant was meant to provide career advancement for young adults who had been through the criminal justice system, court filings show.
Slingerland also admitted to underreporting around $450,000 in income and owing nearly $150,000 in back taxes. He also admitted to embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from his nonprofit to pay his property taxes and fund personal tutors for his children and an expensive dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Slingerland pleaded guilty to one count of misapplication of funds and one count of lying on his tax returns. He faces a maximum sentence of 13 years in federal prison.
The disgraced nonprofit leader is no stranger to abuse of funds charges. In 2014, Slingerland’s nonprofit, the Youth Policy Institute, failed to disclose $140,000 it spent lobbying Obama’s White House and federal agencies for grant funding—potentially violating federal lobbying laws.
An attorney for Slingerland said he "takes responsibility for the mistakes he made," citing his misapplication of funds and failures to report personal income.
From 2015 to 2019, Slingerland used more than $14,000 from his nonprofit to pay down property taxes, more than $10,000 on tutoring his children, more than $6,000 for an upscale family dinner at Momofuku Ko in New York City, and nearly $2,000 on a new personal computer.
In addition to raiding his nonprofit to fund personal expenses, including his wife’s pension and lavish home decor, Slingerland helped line the pockets of Democratic candidates like former Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti (D.). He hosted multiple fundraisers for Garcetti’s 2013 campaign and contributed $5,000 to Democrats in the 2018 midterms, Fox News reported.
Slingerland ran his Los Angeles-based nonprofit from 1996 until 2019, when he was accused of misusing funds and fired. A bankruptcy filing alleged the former CEO had misspent $1.7 million in company money. Slingerland called the filing "extremely misleading" and said only "a handful of expenditures were mistakenly made," the Associated Press reported.
The Youth Policy Institute was founded to fight poverty and empower poor youth through education and job training initiatives, according to court filings. Slingerland pocketed as much as $400,000 annually during his final years at the nonprofit.
Before his sentencing hearing, Slingerland must complete a financial disclosure form and pay back at least $821,958.56 in restitution to the federal government.