Baltimore's Health Education Resource Organization, under fire from local health officials who want the FBI to investigate how federal funds are spent at the agency, has hired a lawyer to review its policies, including how HERO employees are compensated, the Baltimore Sun reports. The lawyer was hired after allegations were leveled that HERO executive director Leonardo Ortega misused organization funds to hire a personal trainer and to give himself several thousand dollars in bonuses. HERO's board last week launched an internal investigation, and the city's health commissioner has asked the FBI to investigate because the agency receives over $1 million in federal tax dollars to provide services to HIV-positive Baltimore residents.
HERO board chairman Carlton Smith also says the board will ask the organization's external auditor to review the agency's financial books. "We firmly believe that the current situation and the questions raised about the organization's corporate governance and compensation policies and practices warrant immediate and decisive action," the board wrote in a statement. "This is a matter of taking responsibility for the organization's actions. This is a matter of disclosure and openness that is required of every organization that depends on the public's confidence. HERO's board is intent on responding swiftly and we believe effectively." Ortega will remain as executive director of the agency during the internal investigations.