The leave comes a day after a Times-Union report of a memo from Peppers accusing Mayor Lenny Curry's two highest ranking officials of pressuring Peppers to give preferential treatment to certain grant applicants

Joe Peppers, the CEO of the Kids Hope Alliance who penned an explosive memo that surfaced this week alleging senior members of Mayor Lenny Curry’s office pressured him to steer grant money to preferred applicants, was placed on administrative leave on Thursday because he is the subject of an investigation by the Jacksonville Inspector General’s office, according to a letter he received.

Peppers received notification in a letter from Brian Hughes, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer. Hughes is one of the officials Peppers accused of exerting “undue influence” on him during a meeting last September.

City spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton said details of the investigation are confidential and that she couldn't provide any more information.

Peppers said in an interview that he wanted to speak with his attorney before commenting on the investigation, but that he believes politics were interfering with KHA's core mission of helping at-risk children.

“I’d like to say that working for the Kids Hope Alliance was a blessing,” he said. “I wanted to be a champion for kids who went through what I went through.”

On Wednesday, the Times-Union obtained a copy of the memo where Peppers describes in detail a meeting he had with Hughes, who was then Curry’s chief of staff, and Sam Mousa, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer at the time. He wrote that they instructed him to give special treatment to a hand-picked group of applicants who would soon seek grant money from the KHA.

Hughes and Mousa confirmed meeting with Peppers on Sept. 6, although they both denied telling Peppers to give any groups preferential treatment and that many parts of the meeting he described never happened.

“I can tell you unequivocally that nothing in that meeting, or any other meeting, with him or anyone else in city government, would involve undue influence or preferential treatment in procurement and contracting,” Hughes said. “The laws are clear. We follow the laws.”

The meeting was held to discuss the Kids Hope Alliances' Stop the Violence “micro grant” program that Curry and the City Council funded in response to a deadly shooting at Raines High School. The $10,000 grants were to be awarded to dozens of nonprofits and faith-based organizations, which would have free reign to spend the cash on whatever programs they believed would steer kids away from violent crime.

The meetings left Peppers so concerned that he described them in detail in a memo and emailed it on Sept. 8 to two members of his executive team.

Peppers was selected in April 2018 to become the first leader of the Kids Hope Alliance, an agency Curry created to replace the Jacksonville Journey and the Children's Commission.

Peppers, an Army veteran who earned a Bronze Star while he was deployed in Iraq, lacked experience leading nonprofits or organizations that provided similar childrens’ services, and his selection to lead the agency over more experienced candidates was a controversial one.

Christopher Hong: (904) 359-4272