State concludes investigation into Clean River Project finances

Rocky Morrison, left, president of the Clean River Project, looks on as Keith Gagnon uses a winch to hoist a water-logged sofa up from the shore of the Merrimac River on Tuesday in Haverhill.MIKE SPRINGER/Staff photo

The Methuen-based Clean River Project was recently notified by the Inspector General’s Office that it completed its investigation into the nonprofit and found no fraud, waste or abuse of public funds as alleged by a former volunteer with the organization.

A probe into Clean River’s finances was set in motion earlier this year when state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, said she received complaints from a former Clean River Project volunteer about alleged misspending of grants and other government money by the river cleanup organization.

In a letter dated Aug. 3 that was sent to President Rocky Morrison Morrison by George Xenakis, director of investigations for the Inspector General’s office, Xenakis provided the following response:

“The Office of the Inspector General has completed its review of allegations regarding impropriety by Clean River Project Inc. of Methuen. Based on this the office will not take any further action regarding these allegations. We did not review the allegations that did not fall within our statutory mandate to prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse of public funds.”

Clean River’s attorney, Gary Evans of West Boxford, said the response by the IG’s office should help restore the nonprofit’s reputation.

“The IG’s office looked into the matter and didn’t see anything that was inappropriate,” he said.

Morrison said he’s “relieved this is behind us and we can now get back to work.”

In recent years, Morrison and his group have convinced the state and communities along the Merrimack River to provide money for cleaning the waterway, which is a source of drinking water for more than 600,000 people. Morrison said the group is supported by fundraising events, and grants from the state and private foundations. He said the group also receives money from several communities along the river.

DiZoglio said, after receiving a complaint, she asked the state auditor to review the Clean River Project, and the auditor escalated the matter to the inspector general.

“I, along with every Merrimack Valley legislator, have demonstrated support for the organization’s work and are grateful for the investigation into a few of the several issues raised,” DiZoglio said this week in response to the IG’s letter to Morrison.

“I am hopeful a full financial review will be able to be done at some point in the future as well.”

Evans said that any allegations that were outside of the realm of Clean River’s finances were not part of the IG’s investigation.

DiZoglio had previously said that as long as the state’s review showed no misspending, she would continue advocating for the release of funds to support Clean River Project.

Morrison said $250,000 was included in a state bond program several years ago to help buy a skimmer boat, allowing removal of debris from the surface of the river more safely than by hand, but the money has yet to be released.

DiZoglio said this week that the only person with the authority to release the government funds Morrison is seeking is the governor and not any member of the local state delegation.

“I encourage him to contact the governor’s office with these findings,” DiZoglio said.

Trending Video

This Week's Circulars

Recommended for you