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DA confirms criminal probe into troubled nonprofit SF SAFE

Kyra Worthy and Brooke Jenkins
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, left, has launched a criminal investigation into San Francisco SAFE, and its former Executive Director Kyra Worthy. | Source: The Standard; Courtesy The San Francisco Examiner

The District Attorney's Office confirmed for the first time Friday that it is criminally investigating the troubled nonprofit San Francisco SAFE, which collapsed last week under questions of financial mismanagement.

Matthew McCarthy, chief of the White Collar Crime Division at the office, took the unusual step of confirming the active criminal investigation in letters to both the Board of Supervisors and the Police Commission.

"We are currently conducting an investigation of potential criminal wrongdoing in connection with SF SAFE's finances," McCarthy wrote.

McCarthy wrote the letters to ask both of the bodies to delay hearings they had scheduled later this month to examine the issues at SF SAFE. He argued that the hearings could potentially compromise the ongoing criminal investigation into the nonprofit.

The news comes after SF SAFE, the longtime nonprofit partner of the San Francisco Police Department, fired its executive director, Kyra Worthy, last Wednesday and temporarily ceased operations over possible misspending.

The problems at SF SAFE first emerged when the Controller's Office released a scathing report Jan. 18, finding that SFPD reimbursed the nonprofit for at least $79,000 in improper expenses, including luxury gift boxes and a Lake Tahoe trip. The report also found that SFPD did not have supporting documentation from SF SAFE for $3.8 million of the $5.3 million that it reimbursed the nonprofit for expenses between July 2018 and March 2023.

Days later, The Standard learned that crypto billionaire Chris Larsen had called for an investigation into how as much as $1 million of the $1.8 million he gave the nonprofit to expand the use of security cameras in the city was spent.

The nonprofit is also facing allegations that it stiffed vendors for at least $1.2 million worth of work, including for installing and maintaining security cameras, and that it left its longtime partner, the Castro Community on Patrol, saddled with $11,000 in debts it could not pay when SF SAFE abruptly cut ties with the group in November.

Worthy did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

She was hired by the nonprofit's board of directors in 2018 despite leading another nonprofit in the East Bay that faced questions about its spending.

In 2017, the West Contra Costa Unified School District demanded that her prior nonprofit, For Richmond, repay nearly $235,000 in funding to the district after an investigation found the nonprofit had filed false invoices and failed to complete services that it was paid for under contracts benefiting Black students.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who called for the hearing at the Board of Supervisors, said he would consult with the City Attorney's Office about whether to postpone the hearing, while noting that the District Attorney's Office "is not authorized to issue legal counsel to the Board of Supervisors or anyone else."

"Of course public hearings (or civil cases for that matter) can proceed during a criminal investigation," Peskin said in a text message.

He also questioned whether District Attorney Brooke Jenkins would "investigate her own office's potential involvement."

"I think she should consider asking the State Attorney General to take this case," Peskin said.

Among those Peskin asked to speak about the Controller's Office report are the controller, SFPD and the SF SAFE board of directors. The hearing is currently set to take place on Feb. 15.

Police Commission Vice President Max Carter-Oberstone, who called for the other hearing scheduled for Wednesday, said he believed his hearing should go forward, but that the decision was ultimately up to Police Commission President Cindy Elias.

"There is nothing stopping us from holding a public hearing on an issue just because that issue also happens to separately be the subject of a criminal investigation," Carter-Oberstone said.

Representatives for the Controller's Office and SFPD who speak at the hearing could decline to answer questions as necessary, he said.

Elias did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Michael Barba can be reached at mbarba@sfstandard.com