I would just like to say there is no excuse for stealing from the AIDS Task Force. I am suffering from overwhelming guilt every day,” said Paula Lamb, 53, the former administrative assistant of the task force.
“I offer my sincere apologies to the staff, the clients and the board. They trusted me, and I broke that trust. I know that people won’t forget. I don’t expect them to. But I hope that some day they will be able to forgive me.”
Remarkably, Lamb had been stealing from the Task Force for over five years before she was caught by the agency's executive director. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette writes, "When Lamb pleaded guilty in April to an embezzlement charge, prosecutors said Lamb used the agency’s credit cards, transferred money and wrote checks to herself. She spent the money at Wal-Mart, Amazon.com, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and QVC. More than 140 checks had forged signatures."
After the Richmond Palladium-Item conducted an in-depth investigation of the AIDS Task Force of Southeast Central Indiana, which led to that agency's closing. The Palladium-Item wrote, "[T]he organization closed its doors July 12, 2004 after the Indiana State Department of Health pulled $232,500 worth of grants, the majority of its $300,000 annual budget, amid complaints of mismanagement and misuse of task force money." That led to an 18-month investigation by the Wayne Co. Prosecutor's office, which resulted in the indictment of William Selkirk, Jr., the agency's executive director, for 10 felony charges. The charges filed claimed Selkirk:
- Wrote an $8,000 check out of AIDS Task Force funds to Lincoln Schneider to cover the payrolls for Schneider’s private business. Neither Schneider nor task force officials have any record the money was paid back.
- Hired a New Castle woman he had met in an online chat room and instructed her to do the task force’s 2002 audit even though the woman was not a public accountant or a certified public accountant. He paid the woman $3,150 to do the audit and eventually paid her $8,700 for consulting and fund-raising services. Her audit eventually was rejected by the Indiana State Board of Accounts because it was not done by an accountant. Selkirk did not have a romantic relationship with the woman.
- Made dozens of unauthorized purchases using task force credit cards, buying meals at restaurants like O’Charley’s, Red Lobster, Carver’s and Jag’s, spending $346 for tickets to a performance by The Three Tenors in Chicago, buying alcohol, motorcycle parts, hotel stays and gift cards at local stores.
- Paid himself $12,000 from a Wayne County Foundation Impact grant to Hope House for a full year of bookkeeping services that were never performed.
Sadly, no one at either the Indiana Department of Health or AIDServe Indiana accepted responsibility for the debacle. The Body reported on June 18, 2002 that "Mark St. John, AIDServe's last executive director . . . acknowledged 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' as the agency's cash flow problems mounted." St. John said that "programs were kept going . . . in the belief that the state would eventually forward the money." St. John told the Star, "There is an argument that we're all responsible here . . . we all contributed to it in lots of different ways here, not with maliciousness or anything else . . . it just kind of happened." St. John attempted to shift the blame to his predecessor when the problems first arose, but the Star reported that "things did not improve under St. John's watch." St. John admitting using funds meant to pay doctors, pharmacies and landlords for the organization's operating expenses. "What I ended up doing was shifting bucks around to make payroll, " St John told the Star. He told the Star then that "the situation is improving." He said that he was "optimistic that by January, things will be back to normal at AIDServe." The agency filed for bankruptcy in June, 2001.
The Body wrote nearly 2 years after the Star's initial investigative report:
A federal audit has concluded that the Indiana State Department of Health owes the US government nearly $800,000 in funds that were inappropriately distributed to about a dozen groups by AIDServe Indiana. In addition, the auditors say they could not find proper documentation for an additional $5.3 million and recommended that the state and the US Department of Health and Human Services continue trying to find or rebuild the paperwork to show if the money was spent correctly.
What is quite troubling is the fact that nobody was ever really held to account for the AIDServe Indiana mess despite the untold human suffering which occurred because of the gross mismanagement of the federal AIDS funds with which it had been entrusted. There were no criminal indictments. It's former executive director, St. John, now operates Lambda Consulting, where he works as a paid lobbyist for Indiana's statewide GLBT organization, Indiana Equality, among other clients.
The importance of these federally-funded programs cannot be understated for those who rely on their benefits. Unfortunately, the people we count on the most to effectively deliver the funding to those in need have failed us miserably in Indiana. Perhaps we need to look for new ways of disbursing these funds. These nonprofit agencies have clearly not earned our confidence and trust.