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Maryland Bar Foundation missing $25,000

A former employee of the Maryland State Bar Association is suspected of taking more than $25,000 from the group’s affiliated charitable nonprofit corporation, an MSBA official confirmed Monday.

The unnamed MSBA employee had access to the account of the Maryland Bar Foundation, which raises funds and distributes grants to Maryland law organizations, said Paul V. Carlin, executive director of the MSBA.

The suspected theft of bar foundation funds is being investigated by the Baltimore Police Department, Carlin said.

The investigation centers on an employee who had been with the MSBA for 12 years, Carlin said, though he declined to name the suspect since the investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed.

“We are trying to get to the bottom of this,” Carlin said. “We want to assess the problem. We want to do all this investigating first.”

Carlin declined to give an exact amount of the missing funds, saying it was “over $25,000” but “not as much as maybe your imagination would think.”

Carlin said he and others within the MSBA and bar foundation uncovered the discrepancy.

“We — and I in particular — discovered this myself,” Carlin said. “It wasn’t something coming in from the outside.”

However, Carlin said he did not know how long the diversion of funds had been going on. The MSBA and the Maryland Bar Foundation have employed an accounting firm to conduct a forensic review of their accounts, Carlin said.

As of now, there is no evidence that any MSBA funds are missing, Carlin said. The organizations have separate budgets and separate boards of directors.

Tax filings show the foundation had $348,544 in total assets in fiscal 2009, according to the most recent records on GuideStar, which compiles nonprofits’ public records online. That year, it reported about $50,000 in revenue and said it gave away about $16,000 in grants.

Created in 1990, the bar foundation funds legal service programs and gives money to launch new projects. Its donations helped create the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland and the Public Justice Center.

The president of the Maryland Bar Foundation’s Board of Directors, Caroline County Circuit Judge Karen A. Murphy, did not respond to requests for comment on Monday. Neither did the board’s vice president, Robert J. Kresslein, a partner at Severn, O’Connor & Kresslein PA.

Carlin said the MSBA and the bar foundation have taken steps to thwart any future unauthorized access to their bank accounts, credit cards and investments. Both organizations have changed the locks and keys at their offices, he added.

“We are hoping the effect of this is going to be minimal,” Carlin said. “That’s a hope. We think we have secured our assets that are in jeopardy. That is a key point. We are examining this. We are investigating this.”