The ARC of Texas has accused a former employee of stealing more than $230,000 from at least five people with disabilities and funneling that money into multiple personal bank accounts.
In court papers filed last week, the nonprofit states that Deborah “Dee” West embezzled money from the ARC’s Master Pooled Trust by falsifying financial spreadsheets and through other fraudulent means. Last week, a Travis County judge granted the nonprofit a temporary injunction that prevents West from moving, selling or otherwise disposing of any of her property or money, with the exception of what she needs for living expenses.
When confronted by her bosses, court documents state, West told them: “I couldn’t pay my bills. I needed money. I couldn’t make ends meet.”
West, who has worked at the ARC since 2004, could not be reached for comment.
“We are deeply saddened that anyone would steal from a person with a disability,” said Amy Mizcles, the ARC’s executive director. “We certainly want to see anyone responsible for this breach and misappropriation of funds be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.”
The Austin Police Department is investigating, she said, and the nonprofit has hired a forensic accountant to review all 1,900 accounts created since the trust fund was started in 1997. The ARC is still notifying the affected parties.
Citing the ongoing criminal investigation and civil action, Mizcles said she could not provide additional information on how the alleged fraud occurred or the internal controls used to to prevent such incidents.
Today, the nonprofit will send a letter notifying all trust beneficiaries of the situation, Mizcles said.
The ARC of Texas is a statewide nonprofit that advocates for people with disabilities and offers financial management services through its Master Pooled Trust. The money — which comes from inheritances, lawsuit settlements and other means — is held in private accounts for individuals. The ARC disperses funds to those clients for expenses such as transportation, clothing and living costs.
The trust currently has about $48 million.
Trust manager Haley Greer — who was West’s boss — first suspected a problem on June 14, according to court documents. Greer, whose job includes approving requests for clients, noticed an expense she knew she had not authorized and decided to review the file. That file contained no documentation for any of the expenses that had been submitted, Greer’s affidavit states.
Staffers quickly realized that $60,000 had been diverted from a client’s fund into West’s personal bank account, the affidavit states.
West was fired and escorted out of the building. A half-hour later, Greer’s affidavit states, “Dee West called and left a voice message for me to say there were three other accounts she took money from. Dee provided account names and said she started embezzling in the summer of 2011.”
The ARC has since discovered money was taken from a fifth individual, bringing the total missing funds to $230,433.
“We worked so hard to establish our reputation in the community, and I don’t want this isolated situation to tarnish our reputation,” Mizcles said. “We found out about it, and we acted swiftly and responsibly and comprehensively to rectify the situation.”