Evanston Official Pocketed almost $84,000 in City Grant Funding to Fundamentalist Religious Group

Reports released by the City of Evanston show that an Evanston official was paid 70 percent of the 2017 HUD grant funding the City awarded to her employer, Sunshine Gospel Ministries, in addition a portion of 2016 funding. The federal funds were provided through a Community Development Block Grant to ensure affordable housing and economic opportunity to Evanston’s low- and moderate-income residents.

Robin Rue Simmons, alderman of Evanston’s 5th Ward, was hired as a Sunshine employee, shortly after the City approved the organization’s 2016 grant funding. Simmons had met with Sunshine’s executive director, Joel Hamernick, in July of 2015 as a newly appointed official, and had participated in the group’s requests for City funding and administration of its pilot program in Evanston.

Sunshine’s reports also confirmed that Simmons’ employee payroll was budgeted exclusively through the 2016-17 funding, during which time she also served as an appointed and elected official for the City of Evanston and was prohibited from accepting financial gain through City-awarded grants.

City’s Unauthorized Expenditures

The City’s grant disbursements to Sunshine nearly tripled HUD’s allowable per beneficiary maximum in its first year of funding, resulting in $93,500 in prohibited disbursements in 2016, and another $26,000 exceeded in 2017. HUD also limits funding in excess of $35-$50,000 per job created or retained.  According to the City’s 2016 and 2017 CDBG Performance and Evaluation Reports, no jobs were created or retained through CDBG grant funding.

The City also failed to proportionately reduce Sunshine’s quota-based grant disbursements—misallocating $27,000 in 2016 after Sunshine failed to report and document, according to unredacted City records, the proportion of resident participation—and overpaid per student funding maximums by more than $6000 in 2017.

In its reports to the City, Sunshine failed to disclose its gross income through the program’s registration fees, failed to substantiate per recipient expenditures and program outcomes, according to unredacted City records, overstated enrollment and resident participation and duplicated the same residents as new beneficiaries.

About Sunshine Gospel Ministries

Sunshine Gospel Ministries IRS Religious Exemption document
IRS Religious Exemption document included in Sunshine Gospel Ministries 2016-funding contract with the City.

Sunshine Gospel Ministries is a fundamentalist, evangelist religious organization, designated by the IRS and Illinois Revenue to be organized and operated exclusively for religious purposes.

In its contracts with the City, Sunshine unlawfully used the unregistered and unfiled trade (DBA) name “Sunshine Enterprises,” in violation of 805 ILCS 405 Assumed Business Name Act and the Federal Regulatory Filings and Policies.

Sunshine Gospel Ministries Invoice to the City of Evanston
Chicago’s Sunshine Ministries invoiced the City of Evanston through the tax-exempt Sunshine Gospel Ministries religious organization

In August of 2016, the group incorporated as “Chicago’s Sunshine Enterprises, Inc.,” but continued to invoice the City under the tax-exempt Sunshine Gospel Ministries.

HUD limits funding assistance to religious organizations to deter discrimination, and Sunshine and its Executive Director have a history of ties to discriminatory organizations, individuals and policies.

Sunshine Gospel Ministries was established as Moody Mission through Moody Bible Church, whose founder also established Moody Bible Institute. Moody is rated as one of the most hostile anti-LGBTQ+ college campuses in the nation, and last year its President and other Moody principals were among the 150 signatories of the Nashville Statement, a manifesto rejecting acceptance of LGBTQ+ legal rights. Sunshine’s Executive Director, Joel Hamernick, graduated from Moody in 2006, and the corporation regularly hires Moody students and graduates.

Hamernick has personally promoted the work of Pastor Eric Redmond, an Assistant Professor at Moody Bible Institute, who reprints the work of designated LGBTQ+ hate groups. Hamernick praised one of Redmond’s short books that preached that churches must reject gays, lesbians and transgender members as a means to repel evil, as a “Brilliant little book…Pray God will use it for its intended purpose.” Sunshine, under Hamernick, has also required its volunteers disclose their views on homosexuality and to pledge their belief that those who are “lost” will be resurrected “unto eternal damnation.”

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