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Two bishops join Food for the Poor board

Special to the National Catholic Reporter
West Palm Beach, Fla.

Two Florida bishops -- Norbert M. Dorsey of Orlando and Thomas Wenski of Miami -- have joined the board of directors of the scandal-rocked charity Food for the Poor.

The overseas relief agency in Deerfield Beach has been the subject of a pending FBI investigation following the Sept. 25 resignation of founder and former CEO Ferdinand Mahfood.

Mahfood resigned after admitting to diverting charitable funds -- now estimated at $400,000 -- to two female members of his staff with whom he had sexual relations and to their families.

The announcement comes just weeks after Food for the Poor’s board released copies of their internal investigative audits to church and law enforcement officials.

Robin Mahfood, Ferdinand’s younger brother and now CEO and chairman of the board at Food for the Poor, said the addition of the two Florida bishops will bolster the charities’ ties to the Catholic church. Food for the Poor is listed in the Official Catholic Directory as an “apostolate” of the Miami archdiocese.

In a Dec. 18 news release from the charity, Bishop Paul M. Boyle, vice president of Food for the Poor’s board of directors and bishop of Mandeville, Jamaica, said he was pleased that the bishops had agreed to join the charity’s board.

“Their practical, hands-on experience in meeting the needs of the destitute, combined with their heartfelt convictions that we are all called to care for the needy, will add much to our already strong leadership,” Boyle wrote.

Wenski, who is an auxiliary bishop in the Miami archdiocese and head of Catholic Charities there, confirmed his appointment to the board earlier this week. He told The Florida Catholic that he had just returned from a trip to Honduras and had not had time to study the charity’s situation in detail.

Wenski did say he planned to be at the organization’s first board meeting in the new year, tentatively set for Jan. 8.

Dorsey, who, like Bishop Boyle, is a Passionist, said that he looked forward to putting his own 10 years of experience with overseas missions to work for the charity.

Food for the Poor primarily serves the missions in the Caribbean and Central America and makes appeals in churches around the country through a speakers bureau of priests who are paid for speaking.

“After witnessing the extreme poverty, malnutrition and severe health problems that plague whole generations in these countries, I am convinced we need to give these people a chance at life,” Dorsey said, adding that the charity now had “renewed supervision and controls in place.”

“I am excited about where God will lead our ministry and look forward to the guidance Bishop Dorsey and Bishop Wenski will bring,” Robin Mahfood wrote. He recently stepped down as CEO of the Florida-based Essex Exports, which he has turned over to his sons.

In addition to Mahfood and Bishop Boyle, other members of the charity’s board include two priests working in Jamaica, Fr. Gregory Ramkissoon and Fr. Burchell McPherson.

Lay members include Grace Bonina of Boca Raton;[] and Francis Issa, a Florida home builder in Boca Raton. Issa and Bonina have been described as longtime friends of the Mahfood family.

Adam Hollingsworth, spokesman for Food for the Poor, said the charity’s board had not yet decided if it will add more new members in the near future.

“Right now we are just excited about the addition of these two board members,” Hollingsworth said.

Tom Tracy is state bureau chief for The Florida Catholic.

National Catholic Reporter, January 5, 2001 [corrected 02/23/2001]