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Charleston City Paper: Crisis Ministries suspends CFO after embezzlement accusation

Spokesperson says CFO ‘made sure all checks were all accounted for’

By Paul Bowers

On Friday, the CEO of Crisis Ministries told Charleston police that Chief Financial Officer Carol Libby had embezzled $11,000 from the homeless shelter by depositing 10 checks, intended for institutions that work with Crisis Ministries, into her own personal account. On Monday, Libby was suspended without pay pending the outcome of the investigation.

Elizabeth Boineau, a spokesperson for Crisis Ministries, says the organization had not had any issues with Libby’s work in the 10 years she worked there and had not seen any clues that something was amiss. “It seems she made sure all checks were all accounted for in the system, and it appears that all vendors were paid,” Boineau said in an e-mail. “She may have created duplicate payments that mirrored the legitimate vendor payments, or fabricated payments with no associated invoice.” The checks in question ranged from $600 to $2,025, but Boineau says that in an organization with an annual budget of about $4.5 million, “checks of that size are not that extraordinary.”

According to Boineau, the checks in question were made out to “various vendors, whom we don’t feel comfortable revealing at this time, but we will work to ensure that not one of them is shortchanged.” Boineau says Crisis Ministries will conduct an audit to determine how much money may have been embezzled.

Libby has not been arrested, and police say the investigation is ongoing. Libby has not responded to the City Paper’s requests for comment.

Crisis Ministries CEO Stacey Denaux was unavailable for an interview Monday, but on Monday night, the organization released a statement about the embezzlement accusation:

Crisis Ministries was deeply distressed to discover last Thursday via a call from their bank, Wells Fargo, that the organization had been the unknowing victim of an apparent embezzlement at the hands of a long time employee, Carol Libby, who served as chief financial officer for 10 years, without incident. The organization is working closely with the City of Charleston Police Department to discover all details of what transpired. In the meantime, Ms. Libby has been suspended without pay, pending the outcome of the investigation, effective today, Monday, June 10, 2013.

Loyal to its mission, Crisis Ministries exists to provide food, shelter, and hope to end homelessness and hunger one person at a time, one family at a time. The organization can only do that through the support of staff, volunteers, and generous donors who are critical to the organization and its success. The last several years Crisis Ministries has worked ardently, with tremendous community support, to add to the core financial base to weather the storm of the recession and to respond to a larger need. To learn that any part of those hard earned funds from donors and other sources was compromised is beyond disappointing. There are numerous checks and balances in place that should have prevented this from occurring, both within the organization and the financial institution. That said, we are not sure how any organization fully protects itself against individuals with their own agendas and illicit/illegal intent, if that is what is proven to have occurred here.

Crisis Ministries does not expect any program or service to be compromised by this unfortunate event and remains committed to its critical mission to serve the homeless.

Boineau says that Crisis Ministries conducts an annual audit and monitors various grants to prevent this type of incident. She says Libby did not have direct access to funds.

According to nonprofit filings with the IRS, Crisis Ministries received about $5,071,000 in contributions and grants in 2011. The shelter currently provides some of its services in a former Piggly Wiggly warehouse, but construction is underway next door for a $6 million eco-friendly new shelter building. Plans for the new shelter include an examination room, a dental room, a nurse’s station, and spaces for counseling, group meetings, and legal services. Crisis Ministries was founded in 1984, and as of December 2011, it had sheltered more than 40,000 people, served more than 2 million meals, and helped more than 7,000 people get into homes.

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