Basin Non-Profits Seeing More Cases of Embezzlement in Recent Years

by Jen Kastner
NewsWest 9

PERMIAN BASIN- Prominent leaders within the Midland-Odessa nonprofit community say the basin has been seeing more cases of people stealing from within charitable organizations. On Thursday, those leaders and other fraud prevention specialists came together to discuss with area non-profit's the ways in which they can safeguard themselves from falling prey to this debilitating problem.

Laurie Johnson with the Nonprofit Management Center of the Permian Basin tells NewsWest 9, "When times are good, that's normally when fraud happens. However, it's not recognized until things slow down because that's when people are starting to look at their dollars and their bottom lines."

Various area charities who met at Thursday's seminar in Midland say they believe there's been a recent upward trend in basin nonprofit organizations getting defrauded by insiders.

David Smith with the Abell-Hanger Foundation says, "People are too busy. They have too much work. People are too frantic and that causes people to shortcut things and do things that are expedient but not prudent."

"It's easy for embezzlers to take a little money here, put a little more money on credit cards or fudge on expense reports. It's easier to do it right now," Johnson said.

Just a few years ago, the West Texas Food Bank was knocked to its knees after Charles Curry, a former employee, was charged with wire fraud after ripping off the very nonprofit he worked for. Just a year before that, Camp Fire USA in Midland was sucked dry of thousands of dollars after the executive director at that time, Michael Burney, stole from within the nonprofit by writing checks to himself, forging signatures and dropping funds into his personal accounts.

Kay Crites with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Midland says the needs they're meeting within the community have significantly jumped as the basin fills up with more people.

"We do have more families moving in. Those families have children and our services grew by 20% last year," Crites said.

Currently, every dollar allocated to them is stretched thin. Falling victim to embezzlement would be crippling.