EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — The financially troubled Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation has canceled a fundraiser after reports of awarding nearly $500,000 to a nonprofit operated by the Olympic champion's husband.
The $300-per-ticket Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation Gala was scheduled for Feb. 28 with TV sportscaster Bob Costas booked as the host.
The foundation owns the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in the St. Louis area.
Last week, The Belleville News-Democrat reported that the foundation had paid at least $457,000 in consulting fees from 2003 to 2006 to Robert Kersee's Diversity Through Sports Youth Foundation.
Robert Kersee told the newspaper that "the money was used properly" but wouldn't say what it was used for. He also said he didn't know until three years ago about requirements to file income statements for his foundation showing how that money was spent.
"In '06 I didn't even know what a 990 was," Kersee said, referring to the income tax form charities have to fill out. "We intend to file them."
In a statement reported by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Sunday, Joyner-Kersee defended the foundation and herself, saying that she had never received money from the foundation. "In fact, I personally contribute sizable donations to the foundation," she said.
She added: "I do regret that someone would take my name and all that I have stood for and release inaccurate information that may damage my reputation and ultimately the service that I'm giving back to my community."
The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation has struggled financially in recent years, running deficits of $492,804 and $936,328 in 2007 and 2006, respectively. 2008 figures were not available.
The United Way of Greater St. Louis is also pressuring the foundation after giving it about $145,000 for the past three years. The organization has downgraded Joyner-Kersee's foundation to "provisional status," meaning it must fix its problems or possible lose United Way funding.
By comparison, just eight of 185 groups receiving United Way money in the St. Louis region have provisional status.
Nelda Davis, the United Way's senior vice president for marketing and communication, said her organization has given the foundation until the end of the year to make improvements to its programming, governance, finance and administration, but declined to provide details.
Joyner-Kersee, 46, and her husband, 54, have a home near Town and Country. Robert Kersee is a high-profile trainer and spends a lot of time in California coaching Olympic athletes.
Jackie Joyner, who won state titles in the long jump and relays events while in high school continued her success at UCLA, where she met Kersee, her track coach. They were married in 1986.
Joyner-Kersee went on to win three gold medals in the Olympics and still holds the American record in the long jump and the world record in the seven-event heptathlon.
Her plans for an athletic center in her hometown of East St. Louis drew a $2 million grant from the Danforth Foundation and $1 million each from Nike and area corporations, Anheuser-Busch and Monsanto.
At its groundbreaking in 1998, then-Mayor Gordon Bush hailed the center as "the Miracle on 25th Street."
A center spokeswoman said the 37-acre facility serves about 200 kids a day in the winter and 500 in the summer, employing four full-time and 28 part-time workers.
Executive director Lecia Rives defended its operation, saying the center has gotten healthier financially with its annual deficit shrinking each of the past two years.
"We cut everything we could," Rives said, including money paid to Robert Kersee's foundation.
Independent audits required by federal law show that the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation in 2003 awarded Diversity Through Sports a $327,000 contract to develop programs "that promote and guide athletes and their coaches through the process of engaging themselves in the area of leadership via sports philanthropy and volunteerism."
Diversity Through Sports received similar contracts in 2004 for $35,000; for $20,000 in 2005; and for $75,000 in 2006.
Rives said the group ran sports programs at the center, brought in track stars for inspiration and "worked to improve communities worldwide."
A 2007 audit showed that the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation also contracted in 2006 with the Robert Kersee-owned Track Court & Field, and owed that company $67,000 for consulting services.