Board asks for investigation

Published 12:12 am Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Questionable expenses, shredded documents found

Opportunity House Inc. board members are calling for a formal investigation into alleged misuse of funds at the Opp women’s and children’s domestic violence shelter, Opportunity House.

The shelter, which also serves Monroe and Conecuh counties, stopped accepting clients Aug. 30.

Tax returns show that for fiscal years 2008 to 2011, the shelter documented $930,000 in revenue and more than $1.14 million in expenses. Last month, staff cited a funding deficit – including the loss of some $40,000 in local grant revenue – as the reason for the closure.

Board members have inventoried tems returned to Opportunity House Inc. such as Vera Bradley bags and bath and perfume products.

Board members have inventoried tems returned to Opportunity House Inc. such as Vera Bradley bags and bath and perfume products.

But financial records obtained by The Star-News over the last month show that while that loss of revenue impacted the shelter, excessive payroll and mileage checks for two shelter employees and questionable credit card purchases – such as six Alabama football tickets and five Auburn tickets – contributed to the more than $200,000 expense deficit in 2008-2011.

Examples include February 2013, when one employee – whose board-authorized bi-weekly salary totaled $1,215 – was paid more than $11,000 in payroll and mileage checks, while another – whose bi-weekly board-authorized salary was $1,003 – was paid more than $8,300. In October 2012, the same two employees were issued checks for $2,500 and $500 respectively, along with regular payroll checks. In March 2011, the same employees were paid more than $9,300 and $6,600 respectively for the same period.

Those same records show unexplained purchases from Opportunity House checking accounts that included hundreds of dollars to an Elba florist, two sporting goods stores, a local jeweler and an Enterprise fine gift store, as well as an income tax payment to the U.S. Treasury for an employee’s “Form 1040A,” and $600 at a Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Board members officially dismissed the shelter’s two fulltime employees and a part-time employee Friday. They found garbage cans of shredded documents, empty file cabinets and at least eight Vera Bradley bags, two NorthFace jackets, an assortment of Sorrelli jewelry items and bath and perfume products that OHI staff members alleged were returned by OHI clients.

A number of financial documents were also missing, board members said. Furniture and electronic items listed as assets on the shelter’s most recent tax return were also not found inside the shelter.

Board members spent the weekend compiling information and an inventory of items found and not found in the shelter. That information has been turned over to the Covington County District Attorney Walt Merrell.

Merrell said Monday night that his office has received a significant amount of information from the board of Opportunity House.

“If we find criminal evidence of wrong-doing, we will pursue it,” he said.