MS chapter takes steps after alleged embezzling

Ex-employee accused of stealing $269,000

August 12, 1999|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

The new president of the Maryland chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society said yesterday that the nonprofit organization has put new procedures in place to prevent theft after an employee allegedly stole $269,000 over five years.

"The reason that was able to occur is that there were some internal financial controls that needed to be changed, and that is the bottom line," the president, Rex Smith, said yesterday. "We have put in place appropriate internal controls."

Melissa Carol Deckelman, 35, is scheduled to stand trial Sept. 9 in Baltimore County Circuit Court on three counts of theft from the chapter, which is based in Hunt Valley. Deckelman, an assistant to former president Dori DiVenti who had worked for the society for 16 years, allegedly took the money between January 1994 and October 1998, according to an indictment.

"At this point in time, we're not aware of any other individual being involved" in the theft, said Baltimore County Assistant State's Attorney Thomas A. Kane, who is prosecuting the case.

Deckelman, of Essex, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Her lawyer, M. Cristina Gutierrez, would not comment yesterday on Deckelman's possible defense.

The loss, discovered in November during a routine audit, led to a restructuring in which DiVenti departed and Deckelman was fired. The chapter, which covers all of Maryland except Prince George's and Montgomery counties, ended its last fiscal year with a deficit of $76,878, according to the organization's Form 990 tax return.

But Smith, a former area director of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's 21 western chapters, said yesterday that the Maryland chapter, which provides information and activities for about 3,700 people with the disease, has recovered its entire $269,000 loss through insurance.

"Those funds have been reinvested in the funds they had been taken from," Smith said. "We're in good financial condition. We have adequate cash reserves. "

Smith said the society also plans to join its insurance carrier in a civil suit to recover the money.

Though he would not discuss Deckelman, Smith said someone in her position previously had access to checks and bank statements, making the thefts possible. "The segregation of duties which would be necessary did not seem to be in place," he said.

That has changed, Smith said.

Smith, 45, was recruited as president from the Desert Southwest chapter of the society, which covers Arizona and part of Nevada.

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