$300,000 United Way theft in Toledo probed

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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The FBI is investigating a former employee of the United Way of Greater Toledo for allegedly stealing nearly $300,000 in donor funds, officials said yesterday.

“It’s [one] employee who, from my perspective, was breaking the law,” Robert Lucas, the organization’s president, said.

United Way officials would not give the name or many details about the employee who is the focus of the investigation. But law-enforcement officials said the employee, a woman, had access to checks that were coming into the operation.

The irregularities were discovered in February, Mr. Lucas said, when a KeyBank employee noticed that a check made out to the United Way for about $3,000 had been deposited into an individual’s personal bank account.

The bank notified the United Way, which traced the transaction to a clerk in the organization’s financial offices. According to Mr. Lucas, the employee was confronted by superiors and admitted making the false deposit. The employee was fired, he said, but agreed to pay back the money.

But over the next few months, as the bank began an investigation into the accounts, more irregularities began to appear. Bank officials found more misdirected funds, totaling nearly $300,000.

United Way officials notified the Lucas County prosecutor’s office, which asked for a total of the amount taken, according to John Weglian, chief of the office’s special units division.

Earlier this summer, the county prosecutors turned the case over to federal investigators because fraud involving a federally insured financial institution, such as KeyBank, falls under the jurisdiction of federal officials.

Carl Spicocchi, head of the local FBI office, and David Bauer, an assistant U.S. attorney in Toledo, confirmed the investigation. Mr. Bauer said that when the bureau turns over its final report on the findings, his office will make a determination about whether to press charges.

Neither man would estimate when charges could be filed, although Mr. Lucas said he believes the investigation is “just about finished.”

Mr. Weglian said that in the unlikely occurrence that federal prosecutors do not press charges, the county will have the option of doing so.

Mr. Lucas said the suspect had been employed at the United Way for about 18 months and that no other employees are believed to be involved. The missing money has not been located, he added.

United Way officials said they have taken steps to prevent such an apparent theft from occurring again. They hired an outside accounting firm, William Vaughan Co., of Maumee, to analyze the agency’s methods of controlling its funds. The firm made several recommendations, Mr. Lucas said, and all have been adopted.

Mr. Lucas said all the funds stolen will be replaced by a combination of insurance funds and a gift from KeyBank. “Key is working closely with United Way to ensure no United Way funds are lost as a result of the incident,” spokesman Ken Baierl said in a prepared statement.

Neither Mr. Lucas nor KeyBank will release details of how the thefts occurred, in part “to discourage potential copycats,” Mr. Baierl said.

The revelations occur at a particularly vulnerable time for United Way, which will begin its annual fund-raising campaign later this month. Its goal is to raise $15 million.

“We want our donors to know that their money is safe and that we have taken every step necessary to ensure that,” Mr. Lucas said.