A woman who has built her career as a prison reformer and founder of a nonprofit company that seeks to give ex-cons a second chance has been accused of sexual assault. Now, Catherine Hoke could find become a prisoner herself as she faces a host of disturbing allegations.
Hoke is the founder of Defy Ventures, a charity for helping former inmates make a fresh start and start their own business. The allegations levied against her range from fostering an abusive work environment to misleading benefactors and ripping off her clients.
Defy Ventures has seen grants from big names such as Google, the Koch brothers, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Those big names may not look to distance themselves from Hoke after the allegations against its founder.
Recently, the charity's own president, Roger Gordon, was fired when he called out Hoke for sexual harassment and fraudulent statistics that lie about the charity's success. Hokes describes her charity as "a second chance for people with criminal histories by offering classes for current and formerly incarcerated people."
Defy Ventures operates in 15 prisons and also teaches classes online. Hoke started the charity after making some mistakes of her own while running a business skills-training program for Texas prisoners in 2004. Hoke was banned from the training program for Texas prisoners after it was discovered she had sexual relationships with four of the program's graduates.
The charity brought Roger Gordon on as the new president three months ago after Gordon chaired a nonprofit that employed over 100 former inmates. Just weeks into the job, Gordon became worried about Hoke's conduct and accused her of making up numbers about the program's success.
One complaint says Hoke "reached her hand up the employee's skirt twice at a company party." The employee who Hoke assaulted later "signed a nondisclosure agreement prohibiting her from disclosing the incident or the existence of the NDA to anyone except the CEO, her husband or the COO."
Other allegations include ripping off potential students of the program. "There have been allegations that Defy has collected application fees from students without intending to admit them and that winners of in-prison business plan competitions do not receive the cash prizes they are promised,' he wrote in his letter. 'Instead, they have been asked to reimburse Defy for program costs and to sign over the money."
Gordon said, "There is no way to arrive at this figure through any consistent and doctrinally sound methodology. Rather, it appears to be arrived at by selectively including program participants and by broadly defining success. More specifically, only the relatively few participants who complete the entire program are checked for recidivism and even then data is selectively omitted."
When Gordon took his concerns to the board he was suspended and told to hand over any notes he took while working for Defy Ventures. The charity commented on the allegations saying, "We feel compelled to say that Mr. Gordon's allegations do not appear to be supported by other members of the organization or by other evidence available to the investigators."
Tips? Info? Send me a message!