Updated: Employee Convicted of Theft Repays Montgomery Parks Foundation $300,000

Updated: Employee Convicted of Theft Repays Montgomery Parks Foundation $300,000

Former fundraiser put on probation, must complete community service and mental health treatment

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Raleigh Leichter

Photo courtesy of the Montgomery County Police Department

A former senior fundraiser for the nonprofit Montgomery Parks Foundation was sentenced this week for stealing at least $160,000 from the foundation over a four-year period.

Raleigh Leichter pleaded guilty to one charge of theft over $100,000 and was sentenced to three years of probation, 100 hours of community service, and mandatory mental health treatment, said Donna McBride, an attorney with Miller, Miller & Canby who the foundation hired to help recover the funds.

The foundation also reached a $300,000 civil agreement with Leichter on Tuesday to recover the stolen money and fees it incurred during the investigation.

As part of her criminal plea, Leichter admitted to stealing at least $160,000 and agreed to pay back that amount to the foundation, board President John Robinson said. She also agreed to $140,000 in civil damages, including legal and consulting fees and overtime pay for employees.

The foundation and the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office believe that Leichter stole at least $270,000 and possibly up to $300,000, Robinson said, but she argued that some purchases flagged as personal were actually business expenses.

“We don’t think that’s true,” Robinson said. “But she agreed to pay $140,000 in civil damages to resolve the difference, and we said OK. That way, the foundation and its donors were recompensed.”

Leichter did not respond to messages left on Friday and Monday with two numbers listed on a public database. Several calls to her attorney, David Martella, were not returned.

The Montgomery Parks Foundation is an independent fundraising and support organization to Montgomery County’s parks department, according to its website. Funds raised by the foundation are transferred to the parks department.

Leichter had been a Montgomery Parks Foundation employee for seven years when the theft was uncovered in January, Robinson said. She had been misappropriating money for about four years, he said, and was granted extensive access to the nonprofit’s resources, including an organization debit card and the ability to transfer funds electronically on behalf of the foundation.

Over those years, Leichter used the debit card to make thousands of dollars in personal purchases and to withdraw cash for personal use. Many were small-ticket items such as dinners, movie tickets and salon visits, McBride said.

“Nothing significantly large,” she continued. “Just a lot of smaller purchases, which is typical in these cases.”

Robinson said he first noticed discrepancies in the foundation’s financial statements after launching an internal audit last October, shortly after taking over as head of the organization. By January, the foundation discovered the full extent of the theft and Leichter was fired, he said.

“It was a deep sense of betrayal,” Robinson said. “To the foundation, the public, and our donors. That’s why it was so important the money was paid back.”

During the investigation, the foundation took measures to prevent future financial misappropriation. All credit and debit cards were cancelled, as were electronic payment options.

“Except for employee salaries and certain administrative expenses that are processed by the Montgomery Parks Department, all expenses are paid only by check,” the foundation said in a press release, referring to the new policy.

Only the executive director and officers of the foundation are currently authorized to sign checks, and separate employees are now responsible for receiving, recording, and depositing donations, Robinson said. All accounts are reviewed monthly by the executive director, president, and treasurer, and reviewed quarterly by the Board of Trustees.

The executive director can’t write checks or enter contracts for more than $10,000 without receiving a signature from a foundation officer or a member of the board.

“We put new protocols in place the instant we discovered what happened,” Robinson said. “No employee has complete control over any financial exchange.”

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