Ernie Suggs, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 14, 2009
The Atlanta branch of the NAACP has accused its former executive director and her assistant of stealing more than a quarter-million dollars to pay for medical services, furniture and college tuition.
In a police report filed Oct. 10, chapter leaders say that over a six-year period, Judith Withers-Hanson and Saundra Douglass, her administrative assistant, stole $275,000 from an organization that operates annually on a $400,000 budget.
According to the report, filed by former chapter president Lonnie King and board member Louise Hornsby, the two women fraudulently applied for American Express cards and wrote checks to pay for personal items.
“Over the period of six years, Withers-Hanson and Douglass used the cards for personal expenses, paid the bills using checks belonging to the association, and covered the usage by making false entries into the association’s accounting records,” the incident report read. “Some of the expenses paid involved personal dental work for associates, college tuition, expensive meals, and furniture purchases not for use by the association.”
The Rev. R.L. White, the president of the Atlanta chapter, said everyone in the organization was shocked when the fraud was discovered.
“I didn’t want to believe it. Judy is a fine lady,” said White, who said he has been chapter president for about 10 years. “You can’t interact with someone that long without caring about them. But I don’t know how all this came to be.”
In 2002, after someone broke into the NAACP’s offices and stole toys that the organization had collected to give to children, Withers-Hanson soberly summed up the pain of the branch losing anything it had worked hard to get.
“We are an organization that has been in business for 93 years to help people,” Withers-Hanson said at the time. “For someone to break in and take what little resources we had is disheartening.”
White said in January, when a new board was elected, the new treasurer, Richard Rose, conducted a routine audit of the branch’s books.
“When he was going over the books, he found the discrepancies,” said White, adding that auditors are still sifting through records and trying to find things because of a “lack of record.”
Daryl Graham, a spokesman for the state branch of the NAACP confirmed that national is investigating the charges. But the revelation that someone might have stolen $275,000 from the organization could not have come at a worse time.
Under the national direction of Jealous, who at 35 was elected the organization’s youngest president in late 2008, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year.
One of the centerpieces of the celebration was obviously fund-raising.