The leader of Hunger Free Vermont says an employee embezzled thousands of dollars from the organization's reserve fund, deceiving fellow employees and auditors for about a decade.
Executive Director Marissa Parisi said in a statement Tuesday that she was "devastated" by the discovery.
Parisi declined to name the employee or discuss criminal charges until an FBI review is complete. The employee had "bookkeeping responsibilities" and had held the position for 11 years, she said.
The employee has been fired, but no criminal charges have been filed.
Eric Miller, U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont, confirmed Tuesday evening that his office is actively investigating the allegations in conjunction with the FBI.
A local bank flagged unusual activity in Hunger Free Vermont's account about a month ago, Parisi said, and the organization's board of directors began a review.
"We looked closer and found quite a few fraudulent checks that confirmed that embezzlement had happened and had been going on for a long time," Parisi said.
Hunger Free Vermont helps to set up meal programs for children in school and child care, speaks out on hunger-related issues in politics and supports the state's food stamp program, 3SquaresVT. The group was founded in 1993 and works out of an office in South Burlington.
Parisi said the embezzlement means Hunger Free Vermont lacks cash reserves that would normally cover four months of operating expenses. She declined to say how much money had been in the reserve fund.
The organization reported a budget of just over $1 million in documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service for 2013.
Program expansions will be delayed, Parisi said, and the group's 14 employees will not receive any raises this year.
"Our primary goal is to make sure we can keep our programs going," said Parisi, who joined the organization as executive director in 2009.
Parisi said she's unsure how the suspected embezzlement went on for so long.
"We're asking ourselves that as well," Parisi said. "We had audits from a professional audit firm every year, so this went undetected by the audit firm."
The organization is reviewing its financial practices with an external accountant.
“We’re a very effective organization. We’re known around the country and that’s why this is so difficult for us," Parisi said.
Parisi is working to rebuild donors' trust and said a separate fund has been established to rebuild the reserve fund and cover the costs of the investigation