AIDS awareness

The Idaho AIDS Foundation reopens and sues the state government for breaching privacy


After seeming to disintegrate almost two years ago, the Idaho Aids Foundation (IAF) has reinstated itself and filed a lawsuit against the State of Idaho.

In March, the IAF filed a federal suit against the Idaho Housing and Finance Association (IHFA) and three of its employees: Gerald M. Hunter, Julie H. Williams and Earl Cook.

The suit seeks unnamed "compensatory and punitive damages and declaratory and injunctive relief." It states the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act, Rehabilitation Act, Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS Act (HOPWA), as well as, the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

"I would call it an invasion of privacy," said Howard Belodoff, an attorney representing the IAF in court.

Belodoff said the IHFA ordered IAF's clientele to release personal and private medical information in order to receive grants. Furthermore, he said such information was only requested from IAF's clients, which have HIV and lower incomes.

IHFA personnel would not comment as of press time. The trio's lawyer, Martin Hendrickson, said he plans to file an official response to the lawsuit by early June.

According to the lawsuit, IHFA received federal grant money from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide housing assistance and supportive services to persons diagnosed with AIDS and their families.

The lawsuit states in 2000 IHFA awarded about $100,000 to the IAF to provide rental assistance and case management. As a grantee, IAF agreed to protect the confidentiality of the name and any other information about their clients.

In July 2001, IHFA renewed the grants, but soon after "required IAF to obtain a signed release of information from HOPWA applicants and their nonapplicant families for housing and support services" or deny benefits "even when the applicant has an AIDS diagnosis and meets the other requirements."

The lawsuit reports IHFA wanted "access to confidential documents and information including, but not limited to case management, medical, psychological and mental health services."

IAF considered the consents a breach of privacy and refused to collect them. About the same time (October 2001) IHFA said the information was needed for a financial audit. IAF claimed to grant access to their financial records, with client names redacted.

But in April 2002, IHFA cut off the grants, which were "made on reimbursement basis." In July 2002, a letter from a Seattle HUD official wrote the IHFA about the issue and said the release "may be perceived as discriminatory" since it "is used only for persons with disabilities or persons who are served under the HOPWA program."

But it was too late. IAF had already closed in June 2002.

Also that June, IAF's actions were questioned in a local gay newspaper, Diversity. An opinion piece written by then-editor Robert McDiarmid criticized the foundation for not granting "access to the necessary audit information" and for cutting back its services.

Belodoff said the cutbacks were not the foundation's fault.

"When their grant money was cut off, it stopped their ability to provide services," he said. The opinion piece also challenged the foundation to "reveal their finances and show us all how [it] has been spending its income."

IAF recently publicly threatened to file a lawsuit against Diversity in response to the piece.

Current editor Mike Esposito seemed to take it all in stride. "That's the risk of doing business," he said. "All the facts have been attributed."

Citing the Diversity lawsuit threat, numerous people would only comment under anonymity that they too did not understand the IAF's demise, after seeming to prosper a short time before.

Former executive director Gainelle Massoth said the foundation was doing great when she left it in February 2000, in contrast to 1996, when she began and said the foundation was almost bankrupt.

"I worked really, really hard with an excellent board of directors and we raised over $400,000," she said.

"When I left, we had $100,000 in the bank, and a paid lease throughout the year."

Massoth was replaced by Mark Welch. Several people in the gay community (who also refused to be identified) questioned if Welch spent IAF's money efficiently and legally, before and after the group dissolved.

Belodoff said, as far as he could tell, all the monies involved were accounted for.

"They wouldn't be in a lawsuit if they had something to hide, because it would come out in court," he said.

Esposito said people just simply want answers. "The question in the gay and lesbian community is, 'Where are the assets?'" he asked.

According to IAF's 2002 annual report filed with the secretary of state, their revenue was $45,892, expenses were $72,955 and assets were $19,818. Welch did not return phone calls to explain the finances as of press time.

Also on file, is the original nonprofit application and dissolution statement, which states IAF's money and property would be divided among other nonprofits should the organization dissolve.

Documents indicate the foundation administratively dissolved in November 2003 for failure to file the required annual report form by the due date. But the same document also reinstated the foundation in December 2003.

The document lists current board members as: Registered Agent Mark Welch; President R. Barry Sams; Secretary Tim Elsworth; Treasurer Darwin Rhoades; and Directors Larry and Gloria Wriggs. Sams' Chiropractic office is used for the IAF's address.

Some tax records were delivered to the Boise Weekly office, along with a statement that the records were uncompleted or unavailable since, "The foundation returns received both an IRS filing extension, and the most recent year was exempt from reporting because the foundation income was under the reporting threshold." 

Welch did not return calls to further explain the organization's finances.

Again, Belodoff seemed confused as to how anyone could think there is some missing pot of money.

"I've been working on this case for two years and I've never seen a cent," he said.