Former Enrichmond Foundation head on missing money: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me’

John Sydnor is the former executive director of the Enrichmond Foundation. After weeks of trying to reach him at his new job with a different nonprofit, NBC12 f
Updated: May. 10, 2023 at 4:55 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - At a park on Richmond’s east end, Linda Sutton or Egister, known around there, thinks about what could have been.

“We had picked out all the benches, the trash receptacles, there was going to be game tables, that was in phase one,” said Linda “Egister” Sutton.

Sutton, a Friends of Historic Fulton Memorial Park volunteer, says the group was about to put in the order last summer.

They had $57,000 in the bank through a group they thought would keep it safe.

“It’s $57,000 gone away! And she said Enrichmond disappeared, and the money is gone. We don’t have the money, and that was in June of last year,” said Sutton.

That’s when the Enrichmond Foundation folded through a vote by its board. The group turned over hundreds of financial documents and emails to the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

“None that I can speak to at this time,” said Jason Miyares, Virginia Attorney General.

This week the Virginia Attorney General had no updates on the investigation into the foundation. Now that the documents are in the hands of his office and the F.B.I.

NBC12 legal analyst Steve Benjamin poured over that box of documents with us.

“Looking through the documents, I see any number of what we might call smoking guns or indications that this was all falling apart,” said Benjamin.

He believes as much as a half million dollars went missing.

Since the 1990s, Enrichmond Foundation has helped 86 smaller organizations by handling finances and insurance and providing them with nonprofit status.

More recently, that work also included two historic cemeteries.

“This is not just the failure of a single individual, and I don’t think that we should be pretending that it is. It’s a failure of a structure that allowed a single person-led organization to burn through hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars,” said Brian Palmer, Founding Member, The Friends of East End Cemetery.

John Sydnor is the former executive director of the Enrichmond Foundation.

After weeks of trying to reach him at his new job with a different nonprofit, we finally found him at his home.

“What, are you kidding me?” said Sydnor.

He returned to his house, refusing to answer our questions about the foundation and missing money.

“Why and where is the money?” said Sutton.

That’s a question many are asking.

Benjamin’s assessment is the foundation was commingling funds when it wasn’t supposed to.

In other words, someone was taking banked money from nonprofits to cover foundation expenses.

He says simply being bad with money isn’t a crime, but investigators are likely looking into potential embezzlement and fraud.

“You cross a line if you wrongfully and fraudulently use, spend or covert money that’s been entrusted to you without authorization,” said Benjamin.

Back in Fulton, Sutton says the lost money would have also helped them start phase two at the park, adding pylons telling the story of how those once living here were uprooted.

Sutton says they will push forward, and the park will be completed.

“We have been through a whole lot, and this park, it means a whole lot,” said Sutton.

Meanwhile, Sydnor has moved on from all this professionally. At last check, he was doing work for LISC Virginia. That’s a nonprofit bridging the gap between investors and projects in under-resourced communities.

He was listed as a fundraising and communications program officer as of last week, but that’s been removed in just the last few days.

LISC’s Executive Director Jane C. Ferrara issued the following statement on Wednesday:

The allegations being made about John Sydnor and Enrichmond concern a timeframe that predates Mr. Sydnor’s time with LISC. LISC had no affiliation with Enrichmond, but as a member of the Richmond community and an organization that understands and appreciates the trust that goes along with making a charitable donation, we agree that there should be a full and complete investigation whenever there are claims of this nature. In light of the current allegations and to allow John time to address these claims, he is currently on a leave of absence from LISC.

These difficult circumstances do not affect LISC’s ongoing work or objectives, like financing affordable housing and economic development projects, supporting small business growth and collaborating with local partners to advance racial equity efforts. All of those efforts continue on pace.

Thanks again but we will not have any further comment.

No one from the foundation, including Sydnor, has been charged with a crime concerning the Enrichmond Foundation investigation.