2 women arrested for allegedly embezzling from Craig’s domestic violence assistance organization | CraigDailyPress.com

2 women arrested for allegedly embezzling from Craig’s domestic violence assistance organization

Erin Fenner

A banner for Advocates Crisis Support Services is shown during an October 2013 rally against domestic violence. Two Moffat County residents have been arrested under suspicion of stealing from the nonprofit organization.

— Two former associates of Advocates Crisis Support Services in Craig were arrested and charged with felony theft and conspiracy for allegedly embezzling more than $450,000 from the nonprofit between 2009 and 2013.

Renae Virden, former secretary/treasurer for the Advocates board and Kimberly Gardner, former grants and financial manager for the organization, were arrested Thursday and are on bond for $20,000 each, according to a press release from the Ninth Judicial District Attorney's office.

Advocates provides resources to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in the form of housing, counseling and other support.

Sharon Farquhar, executive director of Advocates, along with another board member brought attention to the misappropriation of the organization's funds, according to an arrest affidavit.

Farquhar was hired on as the executive director in June 2013 and said she was surprised at the lack of access she had to overseeing the nonprofit's finances. When Farqhar asked to look at the finances, she said Virden and Gardner brushed her off.

"I knew it was fishy. It's just not the way to run things. I was not surprised to find things were going wrong. Otherwise, there's no reason to be secretive," she said.

Recommended Stories For You

It wasn't until Virden and Gardner left Advocates in November 2013 that Farquhar was finally able to evaluate the finances.

According to the arrest affidavit, Virden began writing checks to herself — unauthorized by the four-member-board — in 2011. Gardner processed the checks.

One check was made out for nearly $10,000 to pay for travel expenses for Virden — expenses that never were authorized as reimbursement by the board.

More than $80,000 in checks were written out to "Weldon" with an address in Fruita, according to the report. Virden reportedly has a boyfriend named Lew Weldon and was living with him in Fruita when charges were filed. Gardner has received more than $90,000 each year as a part-time contract employee, according to the report. Virden also pushed back auditing, requesting a "review" instead, according to the affidavit.

Because of this, Advocates didn't wrap up its 2012 audit until June this year, Farquhar said.

While they've been able to keep up with client services, employees have taken a hard hit throughout the past few years, she said.

"I can't see that this impacted our client services. Our client numbers are still high. We just don't turn people away," she said. "What really has suffered (are) the employees."

The employees' health plans and retirement plans were cut under Virden and Gardner's advice, Farquhar said.

"The board followed their advice and eliminated their health insurance, I believe, in 2011 and the retirement plan in fall 2013," Farquhar said.

With already small salaries, this meant some employees had to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

The nonprofit already operates on a meager budget averaging between $300,000 and $500,000 each year. It has three full-time employees, three part-time employees and three on-call staff members. Part of those funds is pass-through funds, which provides salary for a domestic violence and sexual assault police investigator.

The board trusted Virden and Gardner because of the relationship they had with board members, Farquhar said. Virden was also in a position of power when it came to finances.

"They each had pretty long-term relationships with members of the board. That is a really critical part of how they were able to pull this off. It's not just a professional betrayal, but it's been a very personal betrayal," Farquhar said. "The only people they were answering to were themselves. They were just very charismatic."

The case will be set in Glenwood Springs, since the local district attorney's office works closely with Advocates and it would be a conflict of interest. The local DA’s office provides financial support to the victim assistance nonprofit and serves on the advisory board.

Farquhar said she is working to make sure Advocates can put this behind it. The team is assisting in the investigation in any way they can and getting the organization back on track, she said.

Contact Erin Fenner at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.