Non-Profit Organizations Falling Victim to Theft From Within

By: Meredith Stancik Email
By: Meredith Stancik Email

The P. David Romei trial has been the most publicized misappropriation case in years, but it's not the first time an employee has been accused of embezzling money from a local agency.

In fact, just in the last few weeks, News Three has reported on several similar cases.

They're designed to help others, but a common problem is brewing inside non-profit organizations and local government agencies. Employees are being convicted of taking funds meant to benefit the community.

P. David Romei, the former Director of the Arts Council of the Brazos Valley, was sentenced to two years probation for using city money for personal uses.

His recent conviction has prompted changes within the City of College Station.

City Manager Glenn Brown immediately released this statement:

"The city looks forward to putting this issue behind us and continuing on with our strong financial oversight process. Programs like our outside agency funding process and the recent addition of an internal auditor have empowered us to make sure we are the best possible stewards of the citizens' money," Brown said.

Romei isn't the only one who's been found guilty of such a crime.

You may remember Queen Walker. For 19 years she worked in the Brazos County District Attorney's office.

Walker was convicted in 2006 of taking thousands of dollars from the victims restitution account. She spent 120 days in jail and is currently serving a 10 year probation sentence.

Then there's Leslie Ann Riley. She was found guilty this month of stealing from Junction 505, an organization that helps people with disabilities.
Riley misappropriated almost $200,000 from the non-profit over her 12-year tenure.

"If there's a bright side it appears she's been doing this for a while and so it's not a huge lump sum right away," Josh Benn, Junction 505 Director, said.

Former Bryan pastor Kris Erskine was found guilty this month of misapplication of fiduciary property. He was sentenced to four years probation for taking funds from Shiloh Baptist Church and putting them in a personal bank account. In 2006, Erskine had high hopes for his ministry.

"I want to blaze a trail that if nobody ever remembers my name, remembers anything from me, that there were things put in place that the next generation can actually get to where they're trying to go," Erskine said.

So why are people once hired to do good deeds, turning bad?

"Fraud happens for a variety of reasons," Will Brown with the Bush School at Texas A&M University said "It has to do with opportunities. It has to do with personal constraints. People are in in situations where they feel like they can't make other choices and some of it has to do with organizational situations."

Brown says fraud is becoming more common.

"It is a problem," Brown said. "There is fraudulent behavior that takes away assets and resources from these organizations that makes them less effective."

So, what can non-profits do to make sure this doesn't happen to them?

Brown says local agencies should initiate good accounting practices, make sure there's separation between who is taking in the money and who is spending it, and create a culture of transparency.

All steps to avoid the toughest part of being victimized-recovery.

"Donors do say that if they hear of something like this they're less inclined to want to put money toward those organizations," Brown said.

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