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Questions Continue To Swirl Around Durham Loan Program

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DURHAM — The questions about Durham's small business loan program continue. Federal investigators and the city would like to know how things apparently got so out of control.

One of the few success stories emerging from the loan program is Mama's Barbecue. Owners Melvin and Laureen Vines say they put their $35,000 loan to good use.

"We were one of the real ones, there was nothing made up," said Laureen Vines.

The city has not been able to trace a number of loans, and auditors found incomplete paperwork on all 24 of them. The program began to unravel this spring, when the Vines questioned a $1,500 broker fee.

"So all of a sudden, it's time to close it out and get the money, and all this new stuff started coming out," said Vines.

From the start, the Vines say, the program's administrator Anita Bennett was not on top of things.

"We couldn't get phone calls returned, we couldn't get answers when we needed answers and, again, if that's sloppy, then that's the correct word for it," said Vines.

Carborro's director of Economic and Community Development, James Harris, said Bennett had a limited role in his loan program reviewing applications.

"Whatever she did was fine, because the businesses are still in business. And as you can see, paper, pen and ink right behind me is one of them," said Harris.

Bennett's attorney Jonathan Koffa says his client ran into trouble in Durham because the progam there was bigger with less oversight. Durham loan applicants have two screens to go through. In Carborro, applicants have to go through as many as five. Koffa says it is Durham's fault for not putting in more checks and balances.

"My client has been unfairly blamed for a lot of the problems in this situation, and there's enough blame to go around," said Koffa.

That is something for Durham leaders to ponder as this controversy unfolds and swallows up more of their time.

"I think it's absolutely essential that we try to have as thorough an investigation as possible, and get it concluded as quickly as possible and hold all persons accountable for this in whatever way we can," said Durham City Council member Floyd McKissick.

Durham city leaders do not know if or when the federal probe will take place. The Department of Housing and Urban Delopment will not confirm or deny that an investigation of durham's loan program will take place. According to department officials, Carrboro severed ties with Bennett last week.


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