Employees rip off child abuse non-profit

A national nonprofit that helps victims of child sexual abuse across the country was ripped off in a scam orchestrated by three of its own employees, according to federal court documents.

Prosecutors say the Washington-based National Children’s Alliance lost more than $50,000 in a payroll scheme run by the organization’s former chief financial officer and two of his subordinates.

As described in court documents, each person’s take in the scheme appears based on their position in the organization.

On Friday, Michael Young, a staff accountant from Washington, pleaded guilty to taking nearly $10,000 in five extra paychecks. Young showed no emotion as he acknowledged he stole the money, and he told the judge, U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay, he now has a new job at another nonprofit.

Last month, former finance director Sharon Martin of Upper Marlboro, Md., who pleaded guilty earlier this month to stealing eight payroll paychecks totaling more than $15,000. Young and Martin each face up to six months in prison at sentencing in August.

The former CFO, Marvin Perry, is scheduled to plead guilty on June 11. He has been charged with stealing $27,114.43 in additional paychecks.

The alliance’s executive director, Teresa Huizar, said the theft was discovered after she took over in February 2008 and asked an outside auditing firm to review the finances.

Huizar said she had no indication that employees were stealing until auditors came to her with their suspicions. "It was a very unpleasant surprise," she said.

"Obviously it’s a terrible thing whenever an employee betrays their employer’s trust," Huizar said. "What’s particularly horrible about this situation is they stole from an organization that helps victims of child sexual abuse."

The alliance, based in Washington, has more than 700 Children’s Advocacy Centers across the country devoted to helping children who have suffered sexual or severe physical abuse.

When there are reports of abuse, the centers intervene with teams of legal, medical, social service and clinical experts. They work to stop the abuse, provide counseling and try to help prevent the continued cycle of violence of victims from becoming perpetrators themselves one day.

Their work is funded mostly by grants from the Justice Department — more than $76 million since 1995 — with other revenue coming from membership fees. Huizar said the theft hasn’t affected programing — the former employees are being ordered to pay back what they took as part of their plea agreements — but damaged the organization’s reputation.

She said the alliance has added controls to prevent future employee theft and hasn’t lost any members because of it.