Non-profits focus of embezzlement probe

Police say investigation includes Northwest Dental Coalition and Moffat County Partners

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The Craig Police Department is investigating allegations of embezzlement in two local charities.

Two board members of the Northwest Dental Coalition made reports to the Craig Police Department Wednesday that funds for the coalition have been improperly used, Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta said.

"The department has opened a case on the matter and are beginning an investigation," Vanatta said. "We are going to pursue the matter as quickly as possible."

The department has identified Robin McKenzie, the former executive director of the Northwest Dental Coalition, as a suspect but no charges have been filed. McKenzie resigned her position effective this month, and recently joined the staff of Moffat County Partners, another local non-profit organization.

The police received an initial report and complaint against McKenzie today from Moffat County Partners that the department is also investigating, Vanatta said.

"We are actively investigating both cases and (McKenzie) is the main suspect in both," he said.

Police have yet to determine how much money has been allegedly embezzled.

The Moffat County Partners is a youth mentoring program that has been operating in the Craig community since 1998.

McKenzie was not available for comment because she was admitted to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction Thursday night.

According to The Memorial Hospital Community Relations Director Pam Thompson, McKenzie was treated and released at The Memorial Hospital's emergency room Thursday. McKenzie was admitted at 1:40 p.m.

Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead confirmed the MCSO did a mental health transport for a Robin McKenzie Thursday night to St. Mary's Hospital.

St. Mary's Hospital could not confirm if McKenzie is a patient there because it is a mental health issue, a hospital spokesperson said.

Craig Police Lt. John Forgay is the president of the Moffat County Partners board. Both Forgay and Vanatta agreed that another officer from within the department should handle the case, Vanatta said.

"I don't feel that there is a conflict of interest, but to avoid any potential for a conflict of interest, I've assigned the case to Sgt. Bill Leonard," he said. "When this was first brought to us, John agreed there was a potential for a conflict and asked to be taken out of the investigation.

"When we've completed the investigation, we'll hand the case over to the District Attorney's office. It doesn't matter what entities are involved, we will handle this like any other case."

The police department will not be bringing in an independent investigator for this case, Vanatta said. It may ask for the assistance of a financial expert if necessary.

The Northwest Dental Coalition was organized by the Craig office of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association in 1997, becoming an independent non-profit organization in 2000.

"The idea came about several years ago because of concern over the lack of resources for kids to get dental care," said Marilyn Bouldin, executive director of the VNA. "This is a statewide problem, so we developed the coalition. In 1999, KIND Kids In Need of Dentistry contacted us about how they could help in rural areas.

"What the dental coalition does is act as a clearing house for children and adults who can't afford dentistry. Kids that qualify for the Miles for Smiles van are kids with no health insurance."

KIND is a non-profit organization based in Denver. The organization runs the Miles for Smiles van that works to provide dental care for families that are not able afford dental insurance but are not eligible for other public assistance, said Don Cannalte, spokesperson for KIND.

According to Cannalte, the Miles for Smiles van account for the Northwest Dental Coalition is not in arrears KIND received the latest payment owed by the coalition earlier this week. That payment was for $9,003.

The Miles for Smiles van visits Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties. The van also covers several counties in Southwest Colorado, as well as in the Glenwood and Montrose areas.

McKenzie was hired by the VNA to coordinate the Northwest Dental Coalition's programs when the coalition was organized, and left the VNA to stay with the coalition when it became a separate non-profit agency, Bouldin said. Bouldin resigned her position on the coalition's board at that time.

The VNA is only involved with the dental coalition in that it takes applications for dental service and makes referrals to the program, Bouldin said.

The investigator assigned to the case is meeting with coalition board members today to collect any materials that may be considered evidence.

The department is not aware if any evidence has been lost or damaged since the problem was discovered, Vanatta said.

"I would ask anyone else related to this incident to let us do the investigating there may be good intentions in someone's efforts, but such actions could destroy evidence," he said.

The Northwest Dental Coalition is a good program and should not be destroyed because of this incident, said John Ponikvar, president of the Moffat County United Way Board, a funding source for the coalition.

"We'd hate to see that whole program get dropped," Ponikvar said. "It serves a lot of kids."

Moffat County United Way is looking into bringing the Miles for Smiles van on its own to Craig in the near future, he said.

Ponikvar said he would not comment at this time on the United Way's financial involvement with the Northwest Dental Coalition.

Board members of the Northwest Dental Coalition did not return calls requesting

comment.

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