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U.S. Justice Department faults head of Philadelphia gun buyback effort

A pile of handguns are placed in a trash bin after they were surrendered during a gun buyback program organized by Mayor Eric Garcetti's Gan
A pile of handguns are placed in a trash bin after they were surrendered during a gun buyback program organized by Mayor Eric Garcetti's Gan

By David Ingram

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of a Philadelphia gun buyback program gave himself unauthorized pay raises and failed to hold down other expenses paid from federal grant money, the U.S. Justice Department's inspector general said in a report on Thursday.

Compensation given to the Philadelphia Safety Net's executive director, Raymond Jones, was unreasonably high and not authorized by the group's board of directors, according to the audit report. It also said the group had a potential conflict of interest, because Jones's sister served as chairwoman of the board.

The unauthorized raises totaled $82,000 over four years, the audit report said. In 2010, Jones received a salary of $146,378 when his authorized salary was $90,000.

"We believe the executive director's compensation was unallowable and unreasonable," the audit report said. Auditors referred the matter for further Justice Department investigation but did not say what the outcome was.

Some cities around the United States conduct gun buyback programs to reduce firearms crimes, paying local residents to turn in guns and then destroying the weapons.

Critics question whether the programs are effective, given the wide availability of newly manufactured guns.

The Justice Department provides grants for a wide array of local efforts including gun buyback programs as part of President Barack Obama's campaign against gun violence.

Jones, in a written response to the audit report, did not dispute the amounts but said that as the group's only employee he was doing four jobs at once, including grant manager and public relations director. He said the group was in the process of electing a new board of directors to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Philadelphia Safety Net ran a series of events where people could trade in guns to the city's police department in exchange for a gift card good for $100 in groceries.

The Philadelphia Safety Net's buyback events have been successful but were stopped because of a lack of money, Jones said in a telephone interview. "Our aim was to fulfill our mission, which was to take guns off the street, which we've done," he said.

The audit report also criticized Philadelphia Safety Net for failing to account for 280 of the $100 gift cards and for renting a building for $1,750 a month that it used less than one day a month on average.

In response to the audit, the Justice Department said it would try to "remedy" the questioned costs. Jones said his talks with the department were ongoing.

(Editing by Will Dunham and Steve Orlofsky)

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