Ex-employees accuse Auntie Helen’s of fraud, mismanagement
Nonprofit only serves 10 percent of its purported clients
Published Thursday, 22-Apr-2010 in issue 1165
According to several ex-employees, Auntie Helen’s, a local nonprofit that provides free laundry services to people living with AIDS in San Diego County, has been lying to its granters about the number of clients it serves.
The nonprofit has been claiming for years to provide 400 clients with laundry services each month when it actually only serves 35 clients, according to a redacted list of clients provided by the nonprofit’s former client services director Roger Lindgren.
“[Auntie Helen’s Executive Director] Bob Stanley has been defrauding the public for a number of years with its count of clients,” Lindgren said, who resigned last week over the issue. “I’m a person living with AIDS and when all this came to light, shame on me for not catching it sooner.”
“Yes, it is a problem. It’s not truthful. But their was no malice or forethought in any of it. We have nothing to gain by it,” Stanley said, who emphasized changing Auntie Helen’s Website, which displays the inaccurate figure. “The Website will be changed. What were going to do is not mention anything about numbers because the numbers are flexible.”
Nearly 20 percent of Auntie Helen’s revenue for 2009 came from grants (about $30,000), according to its financial statements for that year, obtained by the Gay & Lesbian Times.
“Its fraudulent because the information that I have been including in my grant applications has been false, and its been false for years,” said Auntie Helen’s former grant writer Don Disner, who also resigned last week because of the false numbers. “I’ve been saying 400 clients for years. How do I look as the writer?”
Auntie Helen’s store manger Michael Dudley said that the issue has less to do with fraud and more to do with the “dealings of a disgruntled employee.”
“Roger is disgruntled because he was hired as a driver and he tried to pull a power play to get more power. He wanted to take over. And we all just said no,” Dudley said. “I’m not losing much sleep over it, and I hope you’re not either.”
When Lindgren found out about the true number of clients last January, he brought it up several times to Stanley but the executive director just brushed it off, Lindgren said. Lindgren then informed Disner and Auntie Helen’s bookkeeper Mary Gibson about the low client count. Gibson also resigned last week over the matter. All three have requested Stanley to resign but he has refused.
“I mean if I stole money or did something that was malicious, well that would be one thing, but I don’t feel like I’ve done anything egregious,” Stanley said. “And I am probably the most competent person there to hold the job of executive director.”
But this wasn’t the first time an employee informed the executive director about the nonprofit’s low client number. According to former operations manager Rocky Thomas, who worked for Auntie Helen’s from 1989-2007, Stanley was informed about the issue and remedies were proposed to fix the problem at a board meeting in 2007, but the executive director did not implement them.
“I knew we were getting less people. And we discussed starting to do laundry for seniors with cancer because Gary Cheatham’s [the founder’s] wish, when he was dying, was to keep the laundry going to help at least somebody,” Thomas said. “And Stanley agreed to it but then after the meeting, I said, ‘You want to start it next week?’ and he said, ‘Oh I don’t think we need to.’”
In addition to only serving about 10 percent of the purported number of clients it serves per month, Auntie Helen’s also lost $46,000 in revenue last year (it made $172,000 in profits such as sales from its thrift shop but paid $219,000 in expenses) according to its 2009 financial statements.
Last year, four board members including its former board president Suzie Hayden stepped down over the lost revenue.
“They resigned over the fact that the financials were not in order, that they felt like Auntie Helen’s was going bankrupt and that Bob wouldn’t do anything about it,” Lindgren said.
The former board members were contacted but did not return our requests for comment before this story went to publication.
Current board president Ronn Mathieu would not comment over the matter.
Both Stanley and store manager Michael Dudley said the financial loss has to do with the recession.
“It has the do with the investments that were made. Everything crashed. When the economy comes back, it will come back,” Dudley said.
“The economy has been so crappy,” Stanley said. “The price of everything has just [gone up].”
Several former Auntie Helen’s employees, however, say the lost revenue reflects years of mismanagement.
“The executive director is not making sure that the store is managed and recovered, making sure that merchandise isn’t going out the back door instead of going to the floor, not analyzing monthly financials to see what expenses are out of control,” Lindgren said.
Both Disner and Thomas go further suggesting that the executive director work ethic is harming the organization’s financial solvency.
“He delegates. He doesn’t have to do any work. He didn’t do this when he first started. He was like everyone else, helping out,” Thomas said. “But then he started coming in at 9 or 10 a.m. and leaving at 1 or 2 in the afternoon.”
Disner observed the same behavior while he worked at Auntie Helen’s.
“He never passed 1:30 in the afternoon for a business day while I was there,” Disner said. For someone who makes approximately $58,000 a year – I had access to the financials – and leaves at 1 or 1:30 in the afternoon seems a bit odd and fraudulent to me.”
Thomas and Disner also said that while they worked at Auntie Helen’s they observed the executive director use the organization’s resources for personal use on numerous occasions.
“He’d be using the company car to do his errands to go get lunch, to go to the doctor. The car was for the laundry driver to deliver laundry, who would end up using his own car to do it,” Thomas said. “He would come in and go on the computer, order a pen that costs a $1,000, order shoes from China online, talk on the phone to his friends and that was it, and then he would leave for the day.”
Thomas said that when he brought up these issues to Stanley’s attention in 2007, he was fired.
Gibson and Disner said that Auntie Helen’s could be “saved” by offering its services to the chronically ill and to seniors who need laundry services.
“I think that so many other people could be served, and I would just hate for it to shut down,” Disner said. “The infrastructure is there. They have eight commercial washers, nine commercial dryers.”
“Its not like I think we should throw the baby out with the bath water,” Gibson said. “But the face of AIDS has changed and clearly its not needed as much as it was once needed. Maybe its mission need’s to be broadened to include other people that need the service.”
According to the County of San Diego’s 2009 HIV/AIDS Epidemiology Report, in 2008, there were 6,676 people living with AIDS in the county.
People living with AIDS are chronically ill, said Chief of the County of San Diego HIV, STD and Hepatitis Branch of Public Health Services Terry Cunningham.
“People living with AIDS can feel fine one week and then next week their feeling horrible because of all sorts of different manifestations that can happen,” Cunningham said.
They are also a group of people that could use some help with their laundry, Lindgren said.
While the face of AIDS has changed, the number of people living with AIDS and the physical challenges they face, suggests that some form of laundry services are still necessary.