Board not sure if shelter will be saved

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 20, 2013

Former employees say they witnessed abuse of funds, waste

As Opportunity House board members meet today to determine the future of the abused women and children’s shelter in Opp, former staff members have come forward to say they weren’t surprised to learn of the alleged misuse of funds by other staff.

President Nikki Harris said Thursday board members will meet for the first time today since The Star-News reported the Covington County District Attorney’s has been asked to investigate the shelter’s financial dealings. The request was made after board members determined excessive payroll and mileage checks for two shelter employees and credit card purchases – such as six Alabama football tickets and five Auburn tickets – contributed to a more than $200,000 expense deficit in 2008-2011.

Harris said Thursday the board “has a lot of things to discuss, considering. Do we plan to try and save the shelter? I don’t know at this point. We’ve got to figure out where we are first before we can move on.”

At least two former OHI employees confessed on social media they witnessed “a lot of questionable behavior,” while two others, who asked not to be identified, spoke to The Star-News about their time on staff.

“I suspected they were using the money for themselves for years,” said one woman who worked at the shelter between 2008 and 2009. “I loved working there, but some of the things they did, like all that shopping, I didn’t agree with.”

The second woman, who worked at the shelter during 2010, said that during her six months on staff, only three clients were housed at the shelter for “two or three days at the time.”

“It’s the way things were operated that bothered me,” she said. “I can’t tell you how much waste I saw. I saw brand new things that people had donated, put out beside the road for pick up. When I asked, ‘Why?’ I was told, ‘We’ll buy new stuff.’

“It wasn’t right, and I was determined not to be a part of it, so I quit,” she said. “I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t think that anyone would believe me.”