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By Kathy Chaffin and Shavonne Potts
Salisbury Post
EAST SPENCER ó The N.C. State Bureau of Investigation and the Rowan County District Attorney’s Office have found no criminal wrongdoing in a review of the former ARISE program for at-risk students and its director, the Rev. Eric Henley.
Harold Cogdell Jr., a Charlotte attorney representing Henley, released a statement Thursday saying his client fully cooperated with fraud investigators with the State Bureau of Investigation, and the minister thanks the agency for “getting to the truth.”
“Although disheartened by serious implications lodged surrounding management of ARISE Program resources, Rev. Henley and the ARISE Program remains committed to collaborating with other community stakeholders to meaningfully address the needs of at-risk youth in Rowan County,” Cogdell said in his statement.
Cogdell said he would not comment beyond his written statement, and Henley did not return a phone call Thursday.
The state investigation was prompted in November when State Auditor Leslie W. Merritt Jr. released a report critical of the youth mentoring program, which was created with a state grant to the town of East Spencer.
By that time, the program already had run out of money and closed.
Henley was executive director of the New Beginning Community Development Center, the umbrella nonprofit that operated ARISE (At-Risk Intervention of Social Enhancement) Structured Day Program. He also serves as pastor of New Beginning Community Christian Church in East Spencer.
After getting an anonymous tip that the program was using grant funds improperly, the State Auditor’s Office reviewed the program in September 2006.
The audit made five critical findings. One, for instance, raised questions about documentation for $23,000 in payments to Henly. Though the minister told auditors he and his wife had loaned the money to the program to get it started, auditors found no records of the Henleys’ loans to ARISE.
The program received $81,638 of an original grant of $145,000 awarded by the Governor’s Crime Commission, but state officials suspended funding in March 2007, saying their questions about the program had not been answered sufficiently.
District Attorney Bill Kenerly confirmed Thursday there are “no criminal charges forthcoming.”
The prosecutor said he conveyed his decision to Cogdell, Henley’s attorney.
Kenerly sent Cogdell a letter last week saying the State Bureau of Investigation had completed its investigation. He said he discussed the investigation with an agent, and “based upon the investigation, I concluded that there was not a basis for any criminal charges.”
In a statement released Thursday, Cogdell referred to Kenerly’s letter saying, “Unless we receive additional information, criminal charges will not be filed against Mr. Henley.”
Cogdell said Henley invested thousands of his own dollars trying to keep the program alive “purely out of a commitment to at-risk youth in Rowan County.”
Kenerly emphasized, “Understand that all we look at is criminal charges,” and whether or not, the program complied with state rules governing the grant “are not criminal” issues.
“The only thing we’re looking at is whether we think there was any evidence of any crime committed,” he said.
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Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin@salisburypost.com and Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253 or spotts@salisburypost.com.

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