CrimeWatch: Stealing from Non-Profit Groups

CrimeWatch: Stealing from Non-Profit Groups

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Insiders stealing from non profit groups. Williamson county authorities have seen more cases of it and that's prompted a new program to help those organizations avoid from becoming victims.

For example, Karen Piper was the accountant at Christian Academy in Cedar Park when she stole 140,000 dollars. She used the money to pay personal debt.

Donald Clyde was the senior pastor at the Fellowship Church in Round Rock when he took 800,000 dollars that wasn't his. He bought horses, real estate, and went on vacations.

Nelda Weiss was a bookkeeper for Chisholm Trail Special Utility District and the treasurer for the Florence Library when she stole 30,000 dollars. She paid personal bills.

All three pleaded guilty. These people have all pleaded guilty. There are plenty of other examples. News that is disturbing for the Executive Director of the Williamson County Children's Advocacy Center, another non profit group. Brenda Staples, "It's pitiful. Everybody works really hard for their money."

Staples is in charge of the Center's 650,000 dollar annual budget. She says that's why there's a large system of accountability in place.

"There's probably about eight different people who have their hands on or their eyes on the money from the time the money comes in the door to the minute it goes back out."

In addition, there are monthly checks and an annual audit that costs the CAC 10,000 dollars to conduct. Things the Williamson County District Attorney says too many non profits don't have and should.

John Bradley, "Non profits tend to rely a lot on volunteers. So if someone says they're willing to handle the money and deal with it, much of the organization has a tendency to just let them do everything. And it's that lack of oversight and lack of system for checks and balances that makes it very very easy to steal large amounts of money."

Bradley says he's seeing more of these non profit theft cases. All of them, he says, are easy to figure out who is the one stealing.

"We're looking at bank records that fill rooms showing how someone stole something when simple education and attention to a few simple principles would have prevented the whole thing."

There are so many theft cases now; Bradley says for the first time, his office has an assistant district attorney assigned to these cases.

"There's no question that the economy combined with the loss from non profits is the highest I've ever seen it before."

The high number of non profit theft cases is also why, for the first time, the DA's office is offering free training for non profit companies.

The top three tips: "Number one never put all the money control into one person, such as a treasurer. Number two; spend the money to have an annual audit of your accounts. It means paying someone from the outside to come and make sure things are going correctly. And then number three, on a monthly basis, have someone independently within the organization, like a board, review the bills."

Bradley says none of the suspects had criminal histories so a criminal background check would not have prevented the thefts. But a credit check would have shown money problems and that could have been a red flag for the non profits.

The free training seminar called Fraud Detection and Prevention for non profits will be held Friday October 22nd from 9 am to noon. It'll be at the Williamson County Children's Advocacy Center. That's located at 1811 SE Inner Loop in Georgetown.

Follow Jenni on Twitter@jennileefox7.

 

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