United Way Official Resigns, Alleges Inflated Numbers

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 22, 2006

The chief financial officer brought in to help clean up the scandal-rocked local United Way has resigned in frustration, saying that the organization is exaggerating how much money it is raising and that the bad habits she tried to fix persist.

Kim Tran said she left in part because of the problems. The charity's marketing manager, who confirmed her allegations, also has left, and auditors have pointed to significant problems in how the organization keeps its books. Final figures show that despite its cheery public announcements, the charity has failed to pull itself out of the fundraising nosedive that started three years ago after a spending scandal.

Some employees and former employees have also expressed resentment at what they regard as chief executive Charles Anderson's generous salary increases and the more than $50,000 he received in deferred compensation earlier this year -- even as rank-and-file workers saw benefit cuts and only modest raises.

The charity's leaders deny any allegations that fundraising totals have been inflated. United Way officials say they have rectified most of their auditors' concerns and that the organization is recovering in spite of past troubles.

"There is no question that we are now in a turnaround mode," said Ric Edelman, chairman of the United Way's 22-member board of directors. "We find that there is an awful lot of excitement among employers and donors that we talk to."

The nonprofit organization, which raises millions of dollars for more than 800 local and national nonprofits through its annual workplace fundraising drive, was devastated in 2003 after articles in The Washington Post and an internal investigation uncovered questionable spending by top leaders, bloated overhead costs and other financial improprieties.

Oral Suer, the former chief executive of the organization, pleaded guilty in 2004 to stealing nearly $500,000 from the charity and its pension fund and served two years in prison before being released earlier this year.

Tran, who was hired in 2003 to clean up the financial operation, quit in March after she said Anderson instructed her to include $1 million in questionable corporate donations in the charity's announced total for the 2004 campaign, which ran until March of last year. Two other employees, including marketing and communications chief Anthony Owens, who also left the organization in March, confirmed Tran's account.

Tran said she had been given no satisfactory documentation for the donations. She said she resigned after staying long enough to make sure accountants used the correct numbers when they finished auditing the organization's books earlier this year.

"I don't like being told what to [include], especially when I didn't see the basis for booking it," Tran said.

Anderson, several employees say, wanted to push up the publicly announced fundraising total to help polish the organization's image with the public, its board of directors and its national body, the United Way of America.

Anderson "literally told me, 'I want that [total] as high as possible,'" said Tran, who was director of financial planning and reporting for the national United Way of America before moving to the local United Way shortly after Anderson arrived in 2003.

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