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Before SF SAFE hired Kyra Worthy, misspending questions dogged her East Bay nonprofit

Kyra Worthy
Kyra Worthy was fired from San Francisco SAFE on Wednesday. | Source: Han Li/The Standard

The allegations of financial mismanagement piling up against a San Francisco nonprofit that enjoys millions in taxpayer funding are nothing new for the charity's freshly ousted executive director. Her tenure began on the heels of controversy.

Before getting hired to lead San Francisco SAFE six years ago, Kyra Worthy was the executive director of For Richmond, a now-defunct East Bay nonprofit that contracted with the West Contra Costa Unified School District to run educational programs for Black students.

What happened next raises questions about how effectively public entities monitor the nonprofits they fund and whether they have a responsibility to vet their leaders.

In September 2017, an investigation by the school district found that For Richmond had "submitted false invoices and supporting documents,” according to a letter detailing its findings. The district ended its relationship with the nonprofit and demanded it return nearly $235,000.

"For Richmond failed to complete many services and, in some instances, did not perform them at all, despite receiving payment for such services from the district," an associate superintendent for the district wrote in the letter to Worthy, which was obtained by The Standard.

It was only months later that Worthy landed her job in January 2018 as the executive director of SF SAFE, a longtime nonprofit partner of the San Francisco Police Department, which played a role in her hiring process, according to the president of the nonprofit’s board.

The position, leading a nonprofit that seeks to build trust in the police, made Worthy a useful ally on public safety for Mayor London Breed. It put her in charge of an increasingly large budget funded by taxpayers and donors such as crypto billionaire Chris Larsen. And it let her enjoy an industrial-chic office in the Mission that made Police Chief Bill Scott “jealous,” he joked at a ribbon-cutting ceremony held for the new workspace.

But all that power was suddenly stripped away in a matter of days this week, when allegations of financial mismanagement at SF SAFE burst into public view and ultimately toppled Worthy.

First, a report by the Controller’s Office concluded that SF SAFE had improperly billed SFPD for luxury gift boxes, valet parking at an exclusive club and limo rides on a trip to Lake Tahoe. Then, vendors who did business with the nonprofit came forward with allegations that SF SAFE stiffed them on at least $1.2 million worth of bills. Finally, an internal investigation inside the nonprofit discovered depleted bank accounts—and indications of possible check forgery.

Worthy was fired on Wednesday morning, and the nonprofit temporarily halted operations. She did not respond to calls and text messages seeking comment.

The issues at SF SAFE have since spurred calls for hearings at both the Board of Supervisors and the Police Commission to find out who knew what and when.

“The controller’s audit is very clear—repeatedly—that the financial controls within the police department are severely lacking,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who called for one of the hearings. “The question then becomes, are they lacking because their accounting department sucks? Or is there an element here of the relationship between SF SAFE and the department was too cozy, and they looked the other way because it was ‘all in the family.’”

For Richmond

Worthy, 48, rose up in the Bay Area nonprofit world over the last two decades.

Her earliest job listed on her LinkedIn profile was as a director of program services at the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco in 2002. In the years that followed, she helped develop programs for youth in Bayview Hunters Point, first for the YMCA of San Francisco and later for the Edgewood Center for Children and Families, according to her LinkedIn account.

By 2013, Worthy was executive director at the Chevron-funded nonprofit For Richmond, which was criticized as a tool of the massive oil company.

“I think we’re here to help the community help themselves,” Worthy told the news site Richmond Confidential in 2014.

The nonprofit secured several contracts with the West Contra Costa Unified School District to provide various services.

One program aimed at closing the achievement gap between Black students and their peers called for nonprofit staff to work full-time at school campuses, according to the now-defunct website for For Richmond. Under another program, the nonprofit said it sponsored high school students to attend summer college-prep programs at historically Black colleges and universities.

In May 2017, Worthy and her nonprofit reportedly flew at-risk students from Richmond to Los Angeles on a private jet in a trip meant to give them a broader perspective on the world.

The issues with the West Contra Costa Unified School District came to a head soon after with the September 2017 letter.

It’s unclear how the dispute was resolved. School district officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Journey Back to San Francisco

Worthy started working at SF SAFE in January 2018, according to her LinkedIn account.

Dan Lawson, president of the nonprofit’s board, was a member of the board at the time. While Lawson was not involved in the selection process, he said that the board knew about the prior issues Worthy had at For Richmond when it decided to hire her.

“From what I understand, the selection process was done well, and from what I understand, she was vetted through the police department,” Lawson said.

While Lawson said he was not aware of the letter obtained by The Standard, he said there was “some question” about her past at For Richmond at the time of her hiring.

“As far as we know, there was no proof or nothing to substantiate,” Lawson said.

However, the SFPD pushed back on the extent of its role in her hiring.

Evan Sernoffsky, a spokesperson for the department, said SFPD was not asked to conduct and did not conduct a background check on Worthy before she was hired.

“SF SAFE had hired a separate recruiter, and we participated on a hiring panel, but ultimately the decision to hire Kyra Worthy was up to SF SAFE,” Sernoffsky said.

After the hiring, Sernoffsky said SF SAFE came to SFPD and said it had learned about the allegations out of Country Costa County.

“We looked into it, and there were no criminal charges,” Sernoffsky said.

“SF SAFE’s Board could have fired their executive director at any point,” he added. “It’s their decision to fire their executive director.”

Worthy led the nonprofit as the amount of public support it received annually multiplied from around $940,000 in 2016 to $2.1 million in 2020, according to its tax filings.

By 2020, Worthy’s salary topped $150,000—much higher than the roughly $100,000 that her predecessor made in her last full year as executive director in 2016.

That didn’t stop her from getting reimbursed by SFPD for parking and transportation. Receipts obtained by the Controller’s Office showed ride-hailing trips from San Francisco to her home in Richmond. 

As to whether SF SAFE should have hired Worthy in the first place, Lawson said, “Hindsight is better than foresight.”

“It’s horrible that it’s had to come to this,” he said. “At this point, we are just trying to make sure we can get the organization up and running again.”

Michael Barba can be reached at mbarba@sfstandard.com