$435,837 embezzled, alleges Big Brothers

Office manager accused in lawsuit

kward1@herald-leader.comNovember 3, 2009 

An office manager embezzled $435,837 from Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass during the past year, the organization alleged in a lawsuit filed Monday.

Big Brothers Big Sisters says Bendrea Wilson of Lexington, hired in May 2008, forged two board members' signatures on at least 140 checks.

The checks were made out to five men — Demetrius Davis, Danny Fondren, Emmanuel Marshall and Charles Mealing, all of Lexington, and Marcus Searcy of Danville, the lawsuit states.

Dale Suttles, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass, said he thinks the men are friends of Wilson.

The amount taken represents about a third of the organization's annual budget of $1.3 million, and it has placed the agency in a bad situation, Suttles said.

"We've got to get some money in here or we're going to have to turn out the lights," he said.

The organization serves 1,100 children each year in 14 Central Kentucky counties.

Mark Wohlander, the lawyer representing Big Brothers Big Sisters, said the organization filed the lawsuit as quickly as it could in hopes of recovering as much of the money as possible.

The lawsuit asks for an injunction prohibiting the defendants from "transferring any funds and/or any other assets in their possession or control" for the time being.

Suttles said the alleged scheme came to light Oct. 26, when Central Bank employees "uncovered some suspicious activity with some checks" and notified the organization's board president, Sandy Hatfield, and another member of the board, lawyer David Wolfe.

The FBI was notified, and agents came to the office the next day and interviewed Wilson, Suttles said.

Wilson then admitted her involvement, resigned and was escorted from the building, according to Suttles and a news release from Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Wilson has not been charged, but the FBI is continuing to investigate, Suttles and Wohlander said.

Attempts to reach Wilson on Monday night were unsuccessful.

The forged checks were written from October 2008 to Oct. 23, Suttles said. But Hatfield said almost half of the money was taken during the past two months.

Suttles said Big Brothers Big Sisters has an outside accounting firm that handles its bookkeeping, and each check is signed by two board members.

The agency received "a clean bill of health" after its last annual audit in December, Hatfield said.

The organization said in a news release that it is working with its accounting and auditing firms to find out how the money could have gone missing.

"We've had a series of checks and balances that have worked for years and years and years here," Suttles said.

Funding for Big Brothers Big Sisters, which has 18 employees, comes from sources that include United Way, grants and fund-raising efforts such as Bowl for Kids' Sake, Suttles said.

He said the organization's leadership knew fund-raising and grants were down and attributed its poor financial situation to the bad economy.

An emergency fund for collecting donations is being set up at Central Bank, Suttles said.

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