Madoff Kicks the Racial Gap in the Crotch

The Racial Disparity Project’s donors had invested with the embattled investor, and can’t afford to be nearly as charitable this year.

Public defender Lisa Daugaard says she wasn’t too worried late last year when she didn’t get a check from the JEHT Foundation. The New York–based organization provided major funding for the Racial Disparity Project, which Daugaard heads within The Defender Association (TDA), where she is deputy director. (TDA contracts with the city and county to defend accused scofflaws who can’t afford to hire private attorneys.) The checks came at irregular times after TDA submitted periodic progress reports to JEHT.

But in late December, Daugaard received a letter from JEHT saying the next check wasn’t coming—ever. The foundation’s donors had long invested their funds with Bernard Madoff, the money manager whose allegedly fraudulent operations shocked Wall Street and lost a whole lot of people a whole lot of money.

“It’s devastating for us,” Daugaard says. “It’s even more devastating for [JEHT].” Established in 2000, JEHT was one of the country’s biggest fiscal supporters of groups working on criminal justice reform. The foundation is now shutting down entirely because of the Madoff fiasco.

The TDA project it funded looks at racial disparity in the justice system. It’s perhaps best known for successfully advocating for the reversal of the city’s onetime policy of impounding the cars of drivers with suspended licenses. More recently, the Racial Disparity Project has championed a program that diverts drug users into social-service programs rather than arresting them.

The project is losing $150,000 from its annual $270,000 budget due to JEHT’s collapse. TDA accordingly reassigned one attorney who had worked on the project, and it may do the same with the two others remaining, including Daugaard, if new funding can’t be found.