Days after taking office as the mayor of Urbancrest, Joseph Barnes was introduced to Christopher McPherson, the owner of the McPherson Property Group. McPherson wanted to take Barnes and his wife out to dinner and discuss all the improvements his company wanted to do within and for the area.
The McPherson Property Group had already entered into four contracts with the Urbancrest Community Improvement Corporation (UCIC) for the creation of a master plan, the purchase of a modular structure to be used as a municipal building, and HVAC and construction work on a building owned by the UCIC.
McPherson had recently announced his company’s intentions to build a $120 million shopping development akin to Easton Town Center close to the suburb and wanted to get the new mayor’s approval and possibly have the village contribute to the cost of development.
Barnes said there was something about McPherson that set off red flags, so he asked the village’s planning committee to do research on his previous projects and what they found was shocking.
"Everyone we talked to said they have never heard of him and we realized he never had any intention to bring about improvement to our area," said Barnes.
The village council learned about his deception in time, but it was too late for the UCIC, who gave the McPherson Group a total of $119,425 for the master plan, modular structure and construction work.
An audit that was released on Dec. 9 states that the construction company owes Urbancrest that sum for partially completed work, but village officials do not expect to recoup those funds as McPherson was arrested in June on charges of check forging and bank fraud.
In June 2007, state auditors initially declared the UCIC "unauditable" or unable to be audited due to mission or incomplete financial records, so the Dec. 9 audit covers the calendar years of 2005 and 2006.
Barnes said this situation is a mess, but the residents of Urbancrest to know the UCIC is a separate entity.
"I know people have expressed concern and are worried about how the government is dealing with finances, but the UCIC has no ties to the village government or the government money," he said.
He stated that the UCIC is a non-profit organization and uses only non-profit dollars to promote economic development.