Opinion: Put Safeguards in Place to Prevent Embezzlement

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Copyright 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc.
Chicago Daily Herald

At some point, you have to learn from the mistakes of others.

So with each new case of a school, civic or sports organization discovering missing or stolen funds because adequate safeguards aren't in place, we have to wonder why this still happens. Plenty of cases over the years should raise red flags with organizers of these activities, but the scenario still often involves a system in which one person controls funds with little or no oversight.

The latest case involves the arrest of a Lake County man on charges he stole at least $10,000 as a volunteer treasurer for a Gurnee youth baseball organization. The facts of the case remain to be determined in court, but the accusations follow a consistent theme, and it's not the only one this year. Among other scandals with local ties, a South Elgin man faces charges of felony theft from a northwest Indiana youth baseball team he used to coach and a former Grayslake Elementary District 46 parent teacher organization member is accused of defrauding a school PTO.

With a host of groups collecting money for everything from fundraisers to youth baseball and softball registration, organizers should reflect on these cases and examine how their funding is handled.

They must be proactive to eliminate systems in which monetary control rests with one person, and strengthen procedures to include necessary checks and balances to ensure proper protection. A solution might be something as simple as requiring two signatures on payment for every expenditure. Waiting until after money is missing to impose security measures is far too late to avoid the expense, legal problems and embarrassment of a protracted court case.

We get it that such organizations are made up of volunteer moms and dads who may be neighbors or people who have become friends after years of working together striping fields or sitting through bake sales. After all, the soccer team or school club is not a business, it's for the kids, right?

Wrong. It is a business, especially when the amounts in question are in the tens of thousands of dollars. As evidence, one need look no further than the 2001 case of an Elk Grove Youth Baseball commissioner who eventually pleaded guilty to stealing more than $77,000 from the program to feed his gambling addiction. George T. Lycos was sentenced to eight years in prison for stealing from the league he once led and for bilking friends and business associates out of money.

The fallout included forcing youth baseball volunteers to hold fundraisers to pay for trophies and uniforms, and for the park district to enact several reforms after Lycos' arrest, including controlling youth league money.

That case should be the poster child for what can happen if volunteer agencies and other organizations fail to take control. Yet even now, it seems clear some groups still flirt with a risk that can put a serious damper on the fun and positive energy that compose their primary mission.

December 18, 2013


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