|Posted: Fri Aug 17, 2007 7:00 pm
Post subject: The Chronicle of Philanthropy on Terri Crisp
Embattled pet group agrees to provide $4 million for animal care here
Posted by St. Tammany bureau August 08, 2007 8:54PM
By Christine Harvey
St. Tammany bureau
Under fire for how it spent millions of dollars in donations earmarked for rescuing and caring for animals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a California animal rescue organization has agreed to relinquish the $4 million that remains to help the storm's animal victims, particularly those in hard-hit Slidell.
Noah's Wish, which spent several weeks in Slidell after the storm and received more than $8 million in donations from around the country, reached the settlement last month after the California attorney general's office investigated spending practices by the organization that included a mammoth pay raise and the purchase of new vehicles for the organization's executive director.
The agreement stipulates that Slidell will receive $1 million to build a new animal shelter, though city officials said this week that the attorney general's office is willing to redirect as much as $3 million to Slidell to pay for a new shelter. Sharon Howes, the city's finance director, said she spoke Tuesday with the deputy attorney general who brokered the agreement, and she told Howes that Slidell should be eligible for the additional money.
Gareth Lacy, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said he couldn't confirm that Slidell would receive the full $3 million, as the office first must receive the money from Noah's Wish. The agreement stipulates that the organization must transfer $3.8 million by Aug. 17, with the remaining $200,000 due next July.
"Our intention is to fully fund the shelter, and we're going to do everything we can to make that happen," he said.
'Mistakes were made'
The investigation into the Placerville-based Noah's Wish and, specifically, its executive director, began in the months after Hurricane Katrina, when the organization received roughly $8.4 million in donations. Terri Crisp, the organization's founder and former executive director, said in an interview last week that Noah's Wish had $500 in its account when volunteers arrived in Slidell shortly after the storm.
The Noah's Wish board fired Crisp in March, she said, and the agreement stipulates that the board may not employ Crisp again in any manner.
"My feeling has always been we didn't do anything wrong," she said, adding that she wanted the board to fight the accusations in court. "Yes, mistakes were made, but there were all kinds of mistakes in Katrina because it was so big."
The attorney general's office examined allegations that Noah's Wish didn't use the money to help animals after Katrina, nor did it properly classify and account for the contributions, according to the agreement. In addition, the office considered whether the organization had adequate fiscal control over the money and whether problems existed regarding board governance.
Lacy declined to comment on the investigation's specifics, but the Noah's Wish board said on its Web site in March that the attorney general's office had taken the position that the donations received in Katrina's aftermath could be used only to care for the storm's animal victims.
The board disagreed with that position, saying it thought it could use the money to help animals in other disasters or for general disaster preparedness. Nonetheless, the board agreed to set aside the remaining money and not use it until the matter was resolved.
Amy Maher, the board's president since December 2005, said she cooperated with the investigation, releasing receipts, records and ledgers to the attorney general's office. The office also had access to an audit conducted in June 2006 for the year 2005, though so much information was missing, the CPA firm could not express an opinion on the organization's financial statements.
"A significant portion of corroborating evidence such as vendor invoices, receipts, deposit slips and other supporting data were not maintained during the period that the organization was responding to the needs of animals during Hurricane Katrina," John Waddell &amp; Co., the CPA firm, stated in a letter to the board accompanying the audit. "The records that remain are not sufficient to permit the application of auditing procedures that would be adequate for us to express an opinion on the accompanying financial statements."
Abundance of donations
The attorney general's office notes in the agreement that Noah's Wish spent about $1.4 million on Katrina relief efforts and has $4 million left in the bank. It appears the organization spent the remaining money "primarily to further the general charitable purpose of Noah's Wish, including overhead costs," the agreement states.
Crisp said Noah's Wish had never before received so many donations. She said she wasn't sure what to do with the money because she didn't think she could spend $8 million on one disaster.
She said she needed help managing the money, so she consulted a CPA, who suggested she put the donations earmarked for Katrina response into one account and the remainder into the organization's general disaster response fund. Crisp said she used the money from the general fund to mobilize for future disasters, purchasing new Motorola radios and other equipment that would allow Noah's Wish to be seen as a professional organization.
Former Noah's Wish employees and volunteers contacted by The Times-Picayune said they believe Crisp mishandled the money, using it to purchase equipment they deemed unnecessary, office furniture and supplies such as televisions and paintings, and vehicles that Crisp and her daughter drove for personal purposes.
In addition, Crisp's annual salary rose in the months after Katrina to nearly $141,000, up from a reported $6,000 or so the year prior, according to the organization's 990 federal tax form for 2005. Sheri Thompson, Crisp's second-in-command, earned $118,000 the same year.
Before Katrina, Noah's Wish had two employees, Crisp and Thompson, and Crisp operated the organization from a trailer outside her home, Maher said. Crisp leased space for an office after the storm in nearby El Dorado Hills, as well as an office for media relations and an apartment in New York City, she said. Crisp also hired a dozen people to help her run the organization.
The new employees included Crisp's daughter, Jennifer McKim, and McKim's boyfriend, who worked as the organization's communications director and IT person, respectively. Such nepotism bothered Thea Martin, who worked as an administrative assistant at Noah's Wish from February to December 2006.
McKim and her boyfriend were not qualified for their new roles, and the boyfriend mostly played computer games at his desk, Martin said. She added that Crisp spent money without the board's knowledge, though Martin couldn't offer specific instances.
Crisp defended the decision to hire her daughter, saying she needed someone she could trust to handle the incoming donations while Crisp headed the operation in Slidell for three months. When Crisp returned to California, she said McKim wanted a different position, so she made her communications director.
As for the boyfriend, Crisp said he worked on database development, a job that often required him to wait around until he could move to the next step. Some people may have judged that he was not working during those times, she said.
Once the investigation began, Martin said someone from the attorney general's office asked her about Crisp using company vehicles for personal use and buying dinners on the Noah's Wish credit card. Martin said she confirmed these practices to the investigator, and not long thereafter Crisp fired Martin, telling her that she "had betrayed her confidence." Crisp said the board fired Martin because she couldn't do her job.
Mina Johnson, who worked as the organization's bookkeeper from September 2005 to May 2006, said she questioned Crisp's spending practices, particularly where her daughter was concerned. She also noted the vehicle purchases, saying Crisp bought a new, fully loaded Ford Excursion for herself and a Nissan Titan truck for McKim, as well as horse trailers and a Gator, an all-terrain vehicle that Johnson said Crisp's children rode on her property.
"I didn't like what I saw. I didn't like what was going on," Johnson said. "This was donor money, and (they) were using it incorrectly."
Crisp said several employees and volunteers no longer with Noah's Wish are disgruntled and want to smear her name in animal rescue circles. She added that she's sad that an effort to do something so good and that made such a difference in Slidell ultimately has caused such strife.
"I'm about being nice, and I'm about doing good things for people," she said. When asked why she thinks certain people are unhappy with her, she said, "I don't know, and I don't know if I want to know."
New Slidell shelter
The settlement agreement includes a provision that Noah's Wish review its vehicle inventory to determine whether the vehicles purchased after Katrina are being used in accordance with the organization's charitable purpose, and present its findings to the attorney general's office for approval. Should the investigators determine the vehicles were not a legitimate purchase, Noah's Wish must sell the vehicles and transfer the money from the sale to the attorney general's office for distribution to charity.
The agreement also states that Crisp may not serve as an "officer, director or trustee" with any nonprofit organization for five years, though she already has started a new organization called Animal Resources, which has a purpose similar to Noah's Wish.
She said the attorney general's office knows about her involvement at Animal Resources and approves, as she is not on the organization's board has no fiduciary responsibilities. She said she works mainly in the field, though several people associated with Noah's Wish said the only time she left her air-conditioned command center during Katrina was to meet with the media.
Damian Anti, supervisor at Slidell Animal Control, said he has spoken to Crisp and Maher throughout the investigation and never doubted that Slidell would receive the $1 million they promised to send. However, he said he felt better once he saw the agreement in writing.
Crisp said she never touched the money she promised for the Slidell shelter, and she hopes the attorney general's office decides to give the city even more. Maher agreed that there was never any question that Slidell would get the money for a new shelter and said she understands the full $3 million is forthcoming.
The city plans to build a new shelter near the Slidell Municipal Airport to replace the one on Terrace Avenue that Katrina destroyed, Anti said.
The new shelter will be located where St. Tammany Parish Mosquito Abatement District No. 2 now has a building. Mosquito officials plan to erect a new building nearby, Anti said. The city will break ground on the shelter next year as soon as that building is complete, he said.
In the meantime, Noah's Wish is in a rebuilding mode and down to one paid employee, Maher said. Nonetheless, the organization has agreed to return to Slidell in the event of another disaster, as many loyal volunteers remain, she said.
Christine Harvey can be reached at email@example.com or (985) 645-2853.
Posted Sat Aug 18, 2007 9:52 am:
JENNIFER MC KIM IS TERRI CRISP'S DAUGHTER AND WORKS WITH ANIMAL RESOURCES AS DOES COLLEEN BENZ AND SHERI THOMPSON.
IF YOU REQUIRE ANIMAL DISASTER ASSISTANCE, CONTACT HSUS, NOAH'S WISH, THE ASPCA OR UNITED ANIMAL NATIONS - THEY ARE ALL REPUTABLE ORGANIZATIONS.
Call 3 Problem Solvers: Charity Makes Settlement With Attorney General
Former Director At Center Of Controversy
POSTED: 5:24 pm PDT August 17, 2007
UPDATED: 5:55 pm PDT August 17, 2007
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Noah's Wish, a Sacramento-area charity that rescued hundreds of animals after Hurricane Katrina, turned over $4 million in frozen funds Friday.
It's the result of a settlement between the Attorney General, Noah's Wish, and the charity's former director.
Allegations swirled around the charity after the disaster, that the money wasn't being used for the animals, as donors expected.
Noah's Wish former director Terri Crisp is at the center of the controversy.
Charlie Crosby, a current Noah's Wish volunteer, said the charity supports the attorney general's settlement agreement.
Under the settlement agreement, the charity agrees to turn over $4 million to the attorney general's office.
As for Crisp, she agrees not to serve as a director, board member or trustee with any charity for five years.
But some alleged the ink isn't even dry on the settlement agreement and Crisp may be violating it.
They said she's running a new animal rescue group called Animal Resources that is based in Placerville, not far from her home.
Crosby said other volunteers know that she is the leader of that organization.
Crisp declined the Call 3 Problem Solvers' request for an on-camera interview.
However, she said by phone that Noah's Wish former employees are trying to discredit her.
About Noah's Wish, she said, "Were we never trying to do something intentionally wrong, absolutely not."
On the settlement, she said, "There was more attention put on me, and it should have been evenly distributed among the entire board."
As for Animal Resources, Crisp said she's helping out but is not part of the decision making and has no voting rights.
While Crisp and Noah's Wish have parted ways, both plan to keep working tirelessly for animals in disasters.
The attorney general's office said it's familiar with concerns about Crisp and Animal Resources and is monitoring the situation.
If you have a problem and you think officials are moving too slowly to correct it, contact the Call 3 Problem Solvers at 916-447-2255 or click here to fill out our online form.
Copyright 2007 by KCRA.com. All rights reserved.
Posted Mon Aug 20, 2007 10:19 am:
Settlement Requires Animal Charity to Return $4-Million in Katrina Gifts
By Ben Gose
A California animal-rescue charity that raised $8.4-million to care for animals left behind following Hurricane Katrina — and subsequently spent more than a third of the money expanding its own operations — has settled a state investigation by agreeing to turn over the $4-million that remains.
Noah's Wish, a charity in Placerville, Calif., sent employees and volunteers to help rescue animals in Slidell, La., a New Orleans suburb, and raise money to rebuild the city's animal shelter. With shelter officials focusing their efforts on the animals, Noah's Wish hired a public-relations expert to help publicize the shelter's challenges, and Terri Crisp, the charity's founder and former executive director, did several television interviews on behalf of the shelter in the weeks following the disaster. But as the money poured in to Noah's Wish, the charity rapidly expanded its own staff, moved into new offices in California, and bought expensive rescue equipment.
The group, which had just $500 in the bank when the hurricane struck, increased compensation for Ms. Crisp from $6,200 in the fiscal year ending June 2005 to more than $140,000 the following year.
The charity spent nearly $1.5-million on Katrina relief efforts, but the rest of its spending since the hurricane — nearly $3-million — appears to have been used to expand the operations of Noah's Wish, according to the settlement.
Ms. Crisp, who describes herself as a scapegoat, says she would have preferred to see the charity take the case to court.
She believes the donors who sent money after Katrina wanted to support her organization's work wherever it was needed.
"People knew the money would go to help animals in disaster — they didn't care if it was a dog in Louisiana or a dog in Alaska," she says.
Under the agreement Noah's Wish worked out with California's attorney general, the charity must turn over to the state $3.8-million by August 17, and an additional $200,000 within a year.
The settlement also requires the charity, which now has just one paid employee, to expand its three-member board (two board members recently resigned) and provide governance training to all board members.
The California attorney general's office oversees charities that operate in the state, and may take legal action to ensure that assets are used for charitable purposes.
The settlement prohibits Ms. Crisp, who was fired by the charity's board in March, from serving as an officer or director of any nonprofit group for five years.
The settlement states that the $4-million turned over to the state will go to organizations that "support and assist the animal victims of Hurricane Katrina."
Damian Anti, assistant director of Slidell Animal Control, says an engineering firm recently estimated the cost of a new animal shelter to be nearly $3-million.
Even though the settlement only guarantees the city of Slidell $1-million, the California attorney general's office has been in contact with Slidell officials and has agreed to provide $3-million to cover the full cost of rebuilding, according to Gareth Lacy, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.
"I'm very confident that we can build an outstanding state-of-the-art facility for that," Mr. Anti says. "The community is ecstatic."
Noah's Wish, which Ms. Crisp founded in 2002, rescues animals that are threatened by natural disasters, and shelters them until they can be reunited with their owners. The charity has responded to numerous forest fires and hurricanes in the United States. It also has worked internationally, responding to the December 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka and to flooding in Romania in 2005.
By all accounts, the money flowing in following Katrina virtually overwhelmed the charity, which was struggling financially at the time of the hurricane.
Ms. Crisp says an accountant advised her that any donations that did not specifically state that they were for Katrina relief could go into the charity's general fund.
Noah's Wish, which had been operating out of a trailer on land owned by Ms. Crisp before the hurricane, hired 11 full-time people in the year following Katrina, and rented a suite of offices.
The charity also bought new equipment, including three vehicles and several trailers, some of which were stocked with generators, feeding dishes, and other supplies.
The settlement requires the charity to review its inventory of vehicles to determine whether a valid charitable reason exists for keeping them. If not, proceeds from the sale of the vehicles will go into the fund that benefits Louisiana charities.
Donna Ganguet, the only remaining employee, whose title is executive office manager, referred questions to Amy Maher, who has been president of the group's board of directors since December 2005.
Ms. Maher, who is also a state prosecutor in Illinois, says the rationale behind the spending was to better prepare the organization for the next big disaster.
"We realized how far in over our heads we were with Katrina," Ms. Maher says. "We were trying not to get ourselves in that position again."
Ms. Crisp argues that the $8-million the group raised is more than the city of Slidell needed.
She believes it was logical for the charity to spend some of the money to improve its capacity to respond, and she wanted the case taken to court to clarify how such a situation should be handled.
"If there is a disaster where you bring in a lot of money and it ends up being more than is needed on that particular disaster, what do you do with the money?" she asks. "Do you send it back to them?"
Several volunteers and former employees at Noah's Wish say they believe Ms. Crisp seized on the opportunity to expand the charity's operation, even though it was clear that the vast majority of donors intended for their money to aid animals in Louisiana.
"In the four or five months after Katrina, the money was coming in droves," says Mina Johnson, who was hired as a bookkeeper after the hurricane but no longer works for Noah's Wish. "They basically had no money coming in beforehand, and they had no money coming in after that period. The money was obviously for Katrina."
Ms. Crisp and the board made other questionable decisions, according to volunteers and former employees.
Noah's Wish hired Ms. Crisp's daughter, Jennifer, as communications director, and Jennifer's boyfriend as an information-technology worker. The group also opened a New York office to handle publicity, and staffed it with three employees. That office has since been closed.
Ms. Crisp says the organization hired her daughter immediately after Katrina because all of the charity's employees were in the New Orleans area, and she needed someone she could trust in California to handle the donations that were coming in.
Ms. Crisp blames the organization's board — on which she served — for many of the decisions for which she is now being criticized.
"A lot of this might have unfolded differently if we had had a different board of directors," Ms. Crisp says. "We didn't have the depth of knowledge and experience that we should have had."
"I'm not going to get into a --mammary gland-- for tat with Terri," responds Ms. Maher, the board chair. "We are where we are."
Volunteers Offer Support
Ms. Maher says the charity will stay in business, and that some donors have vowed their continued support. "We're going to watch every penny," she says.
The organization still has a network of volunteers around the country who coordinate efforts to rescue animals during disasters.
In June and July, volunteers traveled to Lake Tahoe and sheltered 118 animals who were threatened by fires in the area.
"We took a hard hit," says Rebecca Oliver, a volunteer coordinator who lives in Grizzly Flats, Calif. "It's refreshing to see that the spirit and the devotion of all the volunteers is still there."
Even though the settlement prohibits Ms. Crisp from serving as an officer, director, or trustee of any nonprofit organization — or handling the duties of such positions — for five years, she is already heavily involved with a new organization, Animal Resources, in Placerville, that has a mission similar to Noah's Wish.
No one at the new charity is being paid, but Ms. Crisp says the plan is for her to eventually assume a paid position in which she would travel to disasters and provide preparedness training.
Ms. Crisp describes the settlement's restrictions on her work as "vague," and says that she is not being reckless in helping to get the new organization off the ground. "The vast knowledge that I have related to managing animals in disasters is desperately needed," she says.
Mr. Lacy, the spokesman for the attorney general's office, says the restrictions on Ms. Crisp are "very clear."
"We're monitoring that situation," he says. "Our goal is to make sure that the terms of the settlement are met, and we will do that."
Copyright © 2007 The Chronicle of Philanthropy