A nonprofit crime-victims advocacy organization misappropriated nearly $200,000 in grant money from the Washington Attorney General’s Office by submitting invoices for tasks the group didn’t actually complete, a new report from the state auditor found.
Washington Coalition of Crime Victim Advocates (WCCVA) misappropriated $199,978 in state money between 2015 and 2017, the report found. The Legislature, in 2013, ordered the Attorney General’s Office to give annual grant money to the WCCVA to fund training for crime-victim advocates.
The WCCVA collected $54,000 in June 2015 for a planned training that never happened, the audit says, but beyond that the report goes into little detail as to what became of the rest of the money.
“We did not see any indication that anyone used the funds for personal use,” said Brandi Pritchard, assistant director of local audit for the Auditor’s Office.
She said most of the payments appeared to go to normal operating expenses.
“For example, the nonprofit sought reimbursement from the AG’s office for expenses to conduct trainings, such as costs to print training materials. However, the nonprofit never actually conducted the training,” Pritchard said.
Greg Wright, the president of WCCVA’s board of directors, said that the organization’s sole source of money is the state grant and that the AG’s office had, several years ago, stopped passing along some portions of the grant money. So, Wright said, the organization ended up using the training money on standard office expenses because the AG’s office had withheld money for office expenses.
“The difference between what they say we owe them is money that they owe us,” Wright said. “We’re saying, would you please transfer the money to us for the stuff that we’ve done so we can have that money to give it back to you.”
Attorney General Bob Ferguson, in a sharply worded response included in the auditor’s report, pledged to recover the lost money and pointed blame at the WCCVA’s leadership.
“The fraud was perpetrated by an executive director who lied to the attorney general’s office, lied to her board, falsified documents and made false declarations under penalty of perjury,” Ferguson wrote. “As soon as my team began to suspect impropriety, they launched an immediate and extensive investigation that demanded hundreds of hours of labor.”
The report does not name the group’s executive director.
The WCCVA refunded about $50,000 to Ferguson’s office in April.
Wright said the organization has effectively been shut down.
“They killed us, the AG’s office,” Wright said. He said that the AG’s office began treating the WCCVA very differently around 2017, when the organization declined to endorse Ferguson’s legislation to repeal the death penalty.
The auditor’s report said the case will be referred to the Thurston County prosecutor; Ferguson’s office said the Washington State Patrol is handling the criminal investigation. Ferguson said that if a criminal case does not result in a court order to recover the remaining money, he’ll pursue a civil case.
The grant agreement between the WCCVA and Ferguson’s office prohibited the nonprofit from billing for expenses ahead of actually incurring those expenses. The auditor’s report found that AG’s office did not have sufficient internal controls to verify that the WCCVA was billing for legitimate expenses that it had incurred.
It recommended that Ferguson’s office get payment documentation from groups to compare with invoice records to help ensure that organizations meet the terms of their grant agreements before receiving money.
Ferguson, in his response, did not take kindly to the auditor’s report.
“At the time the attorney general’s office referred this matter to the state auditor’s office, we handed over extensive evidence and background information to aid in the analysis,” Ferguson wrote. “In response, the state auditor’s office audited my office.”
Ferguson’s response says that the auditor did not sufficiently emphasize that the Attorney General’s Office discovered the fraud and reported it and that it had required WCCVA to swear, “under penalty of perjury,” that the organization’s invoices were accurate.
“Every year, my office uncovers millions of dollars in taxpayer fraud,” Ferguson wrote. “In this case, however, the fraud was perpetrated against my office.”
This story has been updated to included comments from the president of the nonprofit’s board of directors, who disputes the allegations of misappropriated money.