Officials: At least $26K missing from charity

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Associated Press

Posted on January 6, 2013 at 4:02 PM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — At least $26,000 is missing from a Central Texas holiday charity that is essentially closed and under investigation, officials said.

A criminal background check was never done on the organization's president, Shon Washington, who had three theft convictions before becoming involved with the Christmas Bureau of Austin and Travis County. He's now jailed on unrelated drug charges; he isn't charged with anything connected to the possible theft.

The Austin American-Statesman reported (http://bit.ly/VEucN5) that the Christmas Bureau isn't an official Texas charity because it never filed the appropriate paperwork with the Secretary of State's Office. The bureau hasn't filed tax forms since 2010.

Last month, the Texas Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit alleging misconduct by the Christmas Bureau, which works with an Austin police-founded program to provide holiday gifts to needy families. A judge has frozen the nonprofit's assets during the investigation.

Blue Santa is operated by Austin police employees, volunteers and members of community organizations.

It is unclear exactly who was on the Christmas Bureau's board of directors at the time of Washington's alleged misconduct. Meanwhile, the accuracy of the list of board members on the Christmas Bureau's 2010 tax forms is in question.

The Travis County Sheriff's Office Brown Santa program was never on the board of directors, although its name is on the tax documents, program chair Tracy Hill-Dorty said.

But Blue Santa was on the documents. In 2011, the Christmas Bureau provided gifts for 6,000 people through Blue Santa, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said. But it failed to take an active role in the nonprofit's internal operations, he said.

"It appears that, at one point, we did have a voting member," he said. "But somewhere along the line, (we) just started focusing on processing applications."

Washington became involved with the Christmas Bureau in 2010 as a volunteer and later advanced to the top job. The charity came under suspicion last year after Washington failed to provide the applications for the Blue Santa program.

The Christmas Bureau raised more than $110,000 each year to fund its operations, according to the attorney general's lawsuit, which also accuses Washington of using donations for personal gain.

The lawsuit also accuses former presidents Clift Bowman and Cynthia Colpaart of grossly negligent mismanagement, saying they failed to properly monitor the charity.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

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