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WTVP won't receive Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding pending a deeper investigation

Tim Shelley

Peoria's embattled PBS station won't receive vital grant funding pending the outcome of a deeper dive into the station's precarious circumstances.

A Corporation for Public Broadcasting spokesperson says they've referred WTVP's case to their inspector general for further review.

"CPB calculated but will not release WTVP’s FY 2024 CSG (Community Service Grant) until we can learn more about the issues and determine whether proper controls are in place to ensure sound stewardship of CSG funds," the spokesperson said.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is the publicly funded, not-for-profit corporation that's responsible for distributing federal dollars to public media. In fiscal year 2022, the station received $905,514 in direct CBP community service grants. That was about a fourth of the station's total revenues that year.

The station in November asked for an interim release of CPB dollars pending the completion of the station's latest financial audit.

The CPB's Office of Inspector General has the power to conduct independent audits and investigations on stations receiving CPB funding as part of its obligation to probe potential fraud, waste, abuse, or wrongdoing. Any final audit produced through that investigation would be made public. It's unclear how long that process could take for WTVP.

The Illinois Attorney General's Office and Peoria Police Department have also opened their own investigations into the alleged misuse of funds at the public television station. If evidence of wrongdoing is found, the Attorney General has the power to request dissolution of a nonprofit by a court, or the appointment of a provisional director or custodian.

A statement sent out by the station on Tuesday alleged that former president and CEO Lesley Matuszak and former director of finance and human resources Lin McLaughlin approved the "questionable, improper, or unauthorized" spending that led the board of directors to cut the station's budget down by 30% to $3.5 million and lay off nine employees this past autumn. Peoria magazine's publication was also indefinitely suspended.

Matuszak took her own life a day after resigning from the station in September. McLaughlin left the station's employ around the same time.

A statement released by the station Tuesday said they have strengthened financial controls in the wake of the losses, and the board will work with the National Educational Telecommunications Association to "ensure fiscal compliance and transparency moving forward."

As of Nov. 30, the station had brought in $1.4 million this fiscal year and spent $1.9 million. That comes out to a negative operating deficit of $468,000. The station has just over $200,000 cash on hand.

WCBU has reviewed a WTVP fundraising appeal that touts the station's slate of programming and appeals for a tax-deductible contribution in the station's "hour of need," without direct reference to the station's well-publicized legal and financial challenges. The letter states that the station is depending on donors for its "survival and success."

Board chairman Andrew Rand on Monday said rumors that the board would dissolve the station were "categorically false." A released Tuesday by the station said the board is discussing "privileged commercial financial information related to securing the station’s future as a locally operated public television station." Details on what that plan entails are expected to be released sometime in early 2024.

Some members of the public called on the board this week to resign amid the alleged financial mismanagement that happened on their watch, but board members have not indicated they intend to do so.

Contact Tim at tsshel1@ilstu.edu.
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