DETCOG's president answers questions following Diggles' retirement

DETCOG's president answers questions following Diggles' retirement
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff

SAN AUGUSTINE, TX (KTRE) - Deep East Texas Council of Government officials discussed the future of the agency a day after the retirement of embattled Executive Director Walter Diggles.

Diggles along with his wife and daughter were indicted by a federal grand jury following a raid of his home, church, and office in February of 2014.

The indictment explains how Walter Diggles was the pastor of New Lighthouse Church of God in Christ in Jasper, as well as the registered agent of the Deep East Texas Foundation. The offices of the foundation were located in the church. The indictment alleges it was his position and authority in these entities which allowed the conspiracy to succeed.

The foundation received funding almost entirely from DETCOG through federal Social Services Block Grant funding and received $4.4 million in funds from 2007-2012, according to the indictment.

According to the indictment, "Walter Diggles was not only the executive director of DETCOG, but had extensive involvement in the affairs of the Foundation. In fact, Walter Diggles had direct input into the agenda of the foundation; sometimes participated in foundation meetings, and would sometimes refer persons to the Foundation for services. Additionally, he had the authority to decide who would receive money from or services paid for by the Foundation and who did not."

The indictment explains how Lighthouse Church had fewer than 40 active members and the majority of funds received by the church during that five-year period were SSBG funds that flowed from the federal treasury, to DETCOG, to the Foundation, then to Lighthouse Church.

After an executive session where board members decided to move forward with finding a new executive director. President Wes Suiter agreed that changes need to happen when it comes to the executive director.

"I think it depends on what board they serve on," Suiter said. "I mean, are we going to say you can't be on a school board and be the director? I say you cannot be on a board that has a direct relationship with DETCOG. If you're, that origination is receiving federal money from DETCOG, I think there is a direct conflict."

Suiter said while they only know what has been released in the indictment, the organization is starting to look at changing business practices.

"We really need to look hard at our bylaws and our policy and our job description," Suiter said. "Those need to be updated."

The organization has also started to have outside people come in and look over records.

"I have met with and visited with HUD," Suiter said. "I have met with extensively GO and the governor's office, and they've come in and requested to do monitor and reviews of our funding and we totally welcome that and are open to it. We like what we see so far and they are happy with what we have found."

In light of the estimated $4.4 million allegedly scammed by the Diggles family, Suiter said the group will be taking a closer look at services such as the forgivable loan program. The program is set up as a way to encourage new business growth that forgives the loan after two years as long as they meet requirements.

"The forgivable loan program is not a quick fix," Suiter said. "It is the same process as if you go to the bank and apply for a loan. There are certain metrics that you have to meet and requirements that you have to prove that you can perform; it's the same way with ours. We are just protecting these assets and making sure that since over the period of two years we are going to forgive 100 percent of that loan, that these programs we put this money behind are viable programs and are going to make an economic difference in our community. We're not just throwing the money out there to the first person."

Past president Mark Allen said there should be not complete stoppage in the program.

"By slowing down we are just taking baby steps," Allen said. "We are continuing forward. We are going to look very closely at everything."

Allen believes now is the time to fix the image of the group that many in the public feel is corrupt.

"The public's trust is always important. "We need to take what we've learned and take what we've been informed and continue to repair the image of DETCOG."

The board agreed to move forward in the process of hiring a new executive director. Suiter said there is no time frame on when they will hire a new executive director. The committee will be made up of the executive board and three members of othe council of government organizations around the state.

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