- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

An audit of the local United Way's expenses largely clears top officials of recent accusations that they abused credit card allowances and misspent portions of the $93 million in donations received last year by the charity.
"The current management has been put under the microscope," said Anthony J. Buzzelli, a board member of the United Way of the National Capital Area, who was overseeing the audit. "The purpose of the report is to make sure that this management that is in place today is one that the public can trust."
The audit was presented yesterday during a special meeting of the chapter's 41-member board of directors. It detailed answers to questions raised a year ago in a letter of complaint by former board member Ross W. Dembling.
Mr. Dembling, a partner at the Washington law firm of Holland & Knight LLP, was ousted from the board a month after he accused local United Way leaders of irresponsible credit card expenditures and of failure to acquire sufficient contract bids on the renovation of Chief Executive Officer Norman O. Taylor's office.
The audit, prepared by the national accounting firm McGladrey & Pullen LLP, outlines ways in which the local United Way chapter recently created new rules to tighten financial controls over such matters as documentation and use of credit cards by top management officials.
The audit also details reforms put in place last month mandating a competitive-bid policy for any expenditure greater than $10,000 and prohibiting the sale of organization assets to employees or volunteers, even at full market value.
In 2001, according to the audit, there was a $1,800 discrepancy in the credit-card purchases of former local United Way Executive Vice President Oral Suer, who was then earning $6,000 a month plus paid expenses as part of a one-year consulting contract.
Officials said Mr. Suer racked up the charges on his cell phone and monthly America Online Internet accounts. The charges, which were deemed personal, were repaid by Mr. Suer to the charity, United Way spokesman Tony DeCristofaro said.
Mr. Buzzelli said the report was accepted by a unanimous vote of the board of directors.
The National Capital Area United Way is the nation's second-largest chapter, raising $93.5 million last year from Washington-area businesses and their employees. Mr. Buzzelli said the chapter has set a goal of raising $100 million next year.
After Mr. Dembling's accusations made headlines last year, local United Way leaders mailed an appeal to 500 of its largest corporate supporters in February. The letter, signed by Mr. Taylor and board President Gwendolyn E. Boyd, said each of the accusations had received "detailed" attention.
But last week, some board members accused board leaders of dragging their feet with the audit and violating a D.C. law by leaking its findings to some members last month.
Other board members are quick to point out that the present investigation into financial mismanagement doesn't compare to a national United Way scandal of the early 1990s. That probe resulted in the imprisonment of the charity's president, William Aramony, on charges that he misused donations.
Mr. Aramony, who was president for 22 years, was sentenced to seven years in federal prison after being convicted of defrauding the charity of more than $1 million to support a lavish lifestyle.


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