Friday, March 15, 2013

This Is How Nonprofit Fraud Happens When No One Is Watching

by Gary Snyder

As a part-time employee she end up facing charges that she bilked a civic nonprofit group out of huge chunks of its budget. Aisha Little, formerly the executive director of Historic Downtown North Wilkesboro, was arrested on 46 felony counts of embezzlement, two felony counts of forgery of an endorsement and four misdemeanor counts of accessing a computer to defraud or obtain property. 

Arrest warrants list 274 improper transactions totaling $46,115.48, the majority of which came from 168 unauthorized ATM withdrawals for $38,385. Police say forged checks and bank statements and documentation from multiple accounting firms show a range of improper expenses, from five payments totaling $613.63 to television provider Dish Network to a $7.11 purchase at a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant. 

Little, 32, abruptly resigned from the nonprofit in late January. She has no previous criminal record. 

Historic Downtown North Wilkesboro has an annual budget of around $60,000.

As executive director, she was entrusted with the group’s checking account. Checks from the account required two signatures, one of which she would forge. Little also got a debit card that allowed her to retrieve cash directly. She was also creating false bank statements from Suntrust Bank to inflate the amount of money in the organization’s account and to indicate that the funds were going to appropriate places.

Little had two different accounting firms at her disposal — one for the group’s taxes, another for payroll. She is accused of telling one firm she was waiting for information from the other. And bounced checks didn’t get back to the organization’s volunteer board because banks would call Little.

“When you’re dealing with volunteer boards, as that one is, it’s so easy to build trust in folks,” North Wilkesboro Town Manager Larry Smith said. “You’re relying on your paid employees, and it’s easy to not pay real close attention to them. Everything seems to be going OK and the bills, you assume, are getting paid.” (WSJ)

Nonprofit Imperative gathers its information principally from public documents...some of which are directly quoted. Virtually all cited are in some phase of criminal proceedings; some have not been charged, however. Cites in various media: Featured in print, broadcast, and online media outlets, including: Vermont Public Radio, Miami Herald, National Public Radio, Huffington Post, The Sun News, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Wall Street Journal (Profile, News and Photos), FOX2, ABC Spotlight on the News, WWJ Radio, Ethics World, Aspen Philanthropy Newsletter, Harvard Business Review, Current Affairs, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, St. Petersburg Times, B, USA Today Topics,, Responsive Philanthropy Magazine, New York Times...and many more Nonprofits: On the Brink (2006) Silence: The Impending Threat to the Charitable Sector (2011)
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