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United Way employee admits stealing $375K in donations

A former employee of the United Way of Central Maryland admitted to stealing more than $375,000 in donations over a period of six years.

Dorothy Shields Talbot, 48, pleaded guilty to wire fraud Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, just a few hundred feet from the United Way office at 100 S. Charles St. where she served as a senior administrative coordinator in the finance department.

“At the end of the day, she didn’t just steal money from the United Way,” said UWCM President and CEO Mark S. Furst. “We help literally hundreds of frontline organizations that are helping the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable in our community. She took money from them and that’s unforgivable in my opinion.”

Furst attended Thursday’s hearing and was given an opportunity to comment as one of the victims of the fraud. He declined, but later said he would give a statement at Talbot’s sentencing, which is scheduled for Dec. 9.

Talbot faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. She will forfeit the assets she gained through the scheme and will be ordered to pay restitution.

According to the plea agreement, Talbot diverted donations that were intended for the organization’s operating budget into an “employee activities” account that she had been instructed to close. She instead kept it open, put her personal address on it and withdrew at least $375,232.16 for her personal use between December 2004 and December 2010.

Furst said Talbot had taken advantage of a “unique window of opportunity” that the United Way had since closed, and that the organization had hired an accounting firm this summer to do a risk assessment. The firm’s final analysis and recommendations are due Sept. 22.

When asked how Talbot had been able to perpetrate the fraud for six years, Furst said that his organization did regular audits every year, but they had fallen short in this case.

“You do your level best, you have auditors and control systems and you test them,” Furst said. “But nothing is foolproof.”

According to its 2010 tax forms, the organization had 106 employees, 3,036 volunteers and almost $40 million in revenue in 2010 — the final year of Talbot’s fraud.

Furst said United Way of Central Maryland uncovered evidence of the fraud in February, then hired a law firm and a forensic accountant to investigate. He said the results of the investigation were turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s office in March.

Talbot was indicted on two counts of wire fraud on April 28. According to court records, she pleaded not guilty on May 20 and two public defenders, Joseph Lee Evans and LaKeytria Windray Felder, were appointed to act on her behalf.

Talbot changed her plea to guilty on one count of wire fraud Thursday and federal prosecutors agreed to dismiss the second charge against her.

Felder said Talbot had no comment on why she changed her plea.

Furst said he hoped the conviction would deter others from trying to pull off similar frauds.

“I’m pleased the U.S. Attorney’s office prosecuted this case so aggressively and justice was served today,” he said.