Saturday, June 10, 2000

Cancer society rechecks safeguards

Theft case draws attention to lax accounting practices

By Kate Roberts
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Something as simple as having a second person check over financial transactions can help protect nonprofit organizations from theft and embezzlement, risk management specialists say.

        Without safeguards, nonprofits may be vulnerable to incidents like the recent $6.9 million theft from the American Cancer Society.

        Nonprofits are prone to the same financial management problems as for-profit companies, said John Patter son, senior program director of the Washington-based Nonprofit Risk Management Center. But unlike for-profits, charitable organizations often have limited resources and employees, making them easier targets for thieves.

        “Most accountants would recommend that you have different people accounting for money coming in and going out,” Mr. Patterson said. “Most nonprofits have a single person doing their bookkeeping.”

        The Cancer Society said it's doing a complete investigation of financial controls after a former executive this week embezzled money from its Ohio chapter.

        Dan Wiant, 35, was one of three cancer society executives authorized to transfer money between society accounts, said Harvey Schwartz, the Ohio chapter's vice president of market development.

        “That doesn't mean he had authority to transfer money to unauthorized accounts, but no, he didn't need someone else to sign off to make transfers,” Mr. Schwartz said.

        Mr. Wiant faxed a letter to Fifth Third Bank in Columbus that said “he wanted to transfer money to a law firm in Austria and that the money was going to be disbursed for research purposes” — which wasn't true, Mr. Schwartz said.

        Authorities said Mr. Wiant's plan unraveled when his wife reported the alleged theft to police in the Colum bus suburb of Dublin, the agency's Ohio home.

        The FBI says Mr. Wiant is charged with bank fraud. Mr. Schwartz confirmed that the American Cancer Society has fired Mr. Wiant, who was its chief administrative officer.

        In a separate incident, Cancer Society accountant Charlotte Doster, 36, is expected to plead guilty Monday to aggravated grand theft of more than $100,000, said Ron O'Brien, Franklin County prosecutor.

        The alleged theft from the society's Ohio chapter occurred Sept. 16, 1999, Mr. O'Brien said in a news release. The felony offense carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.


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