FBI investigating fraud at Tacoma St. Vincent de Paul

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by JOHN LANGELER / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @jlangelerKING5

KING5.com

Posted on March 11, 2014 at 8:20 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 12 at 5:53 AM

TACOMA -- The new Executive Director of Tacoma's St. Vincent de Paul thrift store said Tuesday around $500,000 had been stolen from the non-profit over a 10-year period, forcing layoffs and closures.

Charlie Thompson, who took over as Executive Director in July, said the FBI was investigating the "complicated" fraud.

"I've been led to believe that it's of a sophisticated enough nature that we wouldn't want someone else to understand how to do it," said Thompson.

Cheryl Lehman, President of the Tacoma-Pierce County St. Vincent de Paul council, sensed financial problems over the summer.  She said she approached the former Executive Director about the issue.

"I asked to see some records," she recalled, "He said I wouldn't be able without a warrant.  Red flags.  Lots of red flags."

The former Executive Director was fired, along with the Arizona-based bookkeeper.  Neither was available for comment.

Red flags among board members came when they learned the stores owed the City of Tacoma $200,000 for unpaid garbage collection. 

Instead of paying the garbage bill, Thompson said, certain staff members may have been paying themselves.

"I would say we're recovering," he continued, "But we are struggling."

Once authorities became involved, payroll fraud was also uncovered, Thompson said.

The FBI would not confirm or deny an investigation was underway.

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