- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

A former top executive of the Washington-area United Way pleaded guilty yesterday to charges that he improperly received nearly $500,000 from the charity and its pension fund.

Oral O. Suer, who retired as executive director of the United Way of the National Capital Area in 2001, “used the charity as his personal ATM machine,” said U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty, adding that Suer manipulated his annual leave records to bilk the charity out of $333,000.

“I plead guilty, your honor,” Suer told U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee near the end of a 30-minute hearing at the Alexandria courthouse.

Suer, 69, admitted to interstate transportation of stolen money, and making a false statement and concealment of facts to an employee-retirement plan. He served as executive director of the local United Way for 27 years. Court documents indicate that he used the organization’s funds to cover personal expenses including car repairs, family travel and restaurant bills.

The charges carry maximum penalties of 10 and five years in prison, respectively. Each charge also is subject to fines of up to $250,000. However, under federal sentencing guidelines, he may be eligible for a sentence of 21 to 27 months. Suer also faces three years of probation.

Suer remains free on a personal recognizance bond, with sentencing scheduled for May 14. Judge Lee restricted Suer’s travel to the Washington area and California, where he has family.

Suer waived his right to an appeal and agreed to make nearly $500,000 in restitution to the United Way and its pension plan. But the charity said that is not enough.

“We feel the loss was $1.6 million,” said Charles W. Anderson, the current president and chief executive officer of the United Way chapter, citing an audit of available records from Suer’s tenure. The chapter also is proceeding with a pair of civil lawsuits against Suer.

“Mr. Suer accepts responsibility for his mistakes and will pay his debt to society,” defense attorney Graeme W. Bush said in a written statement.

Despite changes in leadership, and a report indicating the problems stemmed from personnel no longer connected to the organization, the damage to the United Way’s reputation lingers. After collecting $45 million in pledges in 2001, the charity is headed for a third straight year of fund-raising totals of $19 million or less. That has meant less money for the 1,100 programs funded through the annual campaign, which ends in April.

“We’re looking forward to closing the door on this very ugly chapter,” Mr. Anderson said.

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