Sunday, November 29, 2009


In Plymouth, Michigan the Fiegel Elementary PTO requires two signatures on each check written. And the Ann Arbor Amateur Hockey Association has spread financial responsibilities among members. On the heels of money being embezzled, the organizations are putting more safeguards in place. Nine people have been charged in southeast Michigan this year with embezzling money in cases involving the church, the hockey association, PTOs and Detroit Public Schools.
Daniel Oliver, director of finance and administration for the archdiocese, said even though a recent embezzlement case at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Grosse Pointe Woods was discussed, the impetus for the Web site -- which they hope to launch by the end 2009 -- was to enable the archdiocese to be more proactive.
A former bookkeeper is charged with stealing more than $90,000. The case is now in Wayne County Circuit Court.
"Nobody wants to be the one to call in and be the person to air the dirty laundry," Oliver said. "What this system does, it allows us to really kind of dig through, ask questions, do some follow-up to see whether or not the claim somebody is making really has some validity to it."
Churches, schools, volunteer groups lose cash to theft. They were trusted parents and volunteers, paid bookkeepers and church members. They handled finances for boosters, athletic clubs, parent-teacher organizations, Catholic parishes and schools.
And when no one was looking, they stole. After being victims of embezzlement, groups in cities like Plymouth, Ann Arbor and Troy, as well as Van Dyke Public Schools in Warren, have put safeguards in place, including requiring multiple signatures on checks, doing background checks on potential bookkeepers and not allowing one person to handle all finances.
The Fiegel Elementary PTO in Plymouth -- where a former treasurer and her husband were charged in May with stealing more than $14,000 -- requires background checks.
The Troy Athens High School Athletic Boosters -- which had a former concession manager, sentenced to five years of probation in 2008, steal $5,800 -- has made changes including that money from concessions be counted by two people, said boosters President LaRue Williams.
A former bookkeeper who handled all of the Ann Arbor Amateur Hockey Association's finances embezzled more than $800,000. Lindsay Aspegren, treasurer of the association's board, said the group now provides more financial training for board members.
Van Dyke Public Schools, where a former secretary was accused in June of stealing $112,000, now reviews banks statements more frequently, said district spokeswoman Renee Burch.
The Archdiocese of Detroit is creating a Web site and phone line for people to give anonymous tips. A former bookkeeper at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Grosse Pointe Woods was charged in September with embezzling more than $90,000.
Daniel Oliver, director of finance and administration for the Archdiocese of Detroit, said he hopes the new anonymous tip service "will deter anyone who might be thinking about doing anything from going forward with it."
Canton Police Detective Tim Wright, who investigated the Fiegel PTO case, said one person should never be put in charge of all of an organization's finances
"You can't trust," he said. "No matter who it is."

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