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Former WildEarth Guardians Staffer and Outside Contractor Caught Embezzling From Federal and State Restoration Grants

May 13, 2019
John Horning, 505-795-5083, jhorning@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Santa Fe, NM – Yesterday WildEarth Guardians transmitted to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Albuquerque a forensic auditor’s report which found evidence that the organization’s former restoration program director colluded with an outside contractor to overbill the state and federal grants the organization receives to restore rivers and streams. WildEarth Guardians informed the U.S. Attorney’s office of the scheme last week and has asked the auditors to cooperate in the forthcoming criminal investigation. The audit, completed by the McHard Firm of Albuquerque, found that WildEarth Guardians’ former staff member “participated in a felony fraud scheme with [a] WildEarth Guardians vendor” to steal a significant amount of money.

WildEarth Guardians learned of the embezzlement scheme on April 2nd through an anonymous informant’s lawyers. The informant had learned that the former director colluded with a contractor to embezzle money from the state and federal grants WildEarth Guardians receives to do restoration work. As a result of that tip, the next day our board hired the McHard Firm of Albuquerque to conduct an investigation into the serious allegations. Two weeks later WildEarth Guardians had enough evidence to determine the allegations were true and terminated the relationships with the staffer and outside contractor. Over the last few weeks WildEarth Guardians informed all of the state and federal agencies with whom it partners about the embezzlement. WildEarth Guardians is currently working with the appropriate federal and state authorities to hold the two individuals accountable for their actions. In response, WildEarth Guardians’ Executive Director John Horning issued the following statement:

I am shocked, saddened and dismayed that a person I knew for 17 years and to whom we entrusted so much healing, restorative work, would betray us all so brazenly.

At a time like this transparency is critical. With that in mind I welcome any scrutiny of and investigation into our financial systems and accounting to help rebuild trust with all of our investors, partners and collaborators—on both our restoration work and our conservation advocacy.

To all of our donors and supporters I want to reassure you, first, that none of your contributions were affected by this behavior. This was the work of one individual colluding with one outside contractor to falsify invoices that were solely in the restoration program. The restoration program had federal and state grants and those monies only came to Guardians after we submitted invoices for the work.

To the taxpayers whose funds were embezzled please know that we will do everything we can to reclaim every last penny that has been stolen from the state and federal agencies who entrusted us to do this work.

To our restoration partners, many of whom we’ve already met with to convey this sad news, know that we will work to steadily restore trust in our work—and in our word.

We are passionate, hard-working, trusting people at Guardians. This incident will not change those core qualities—nor will it diminish our work to defend the health and resilience of our climate, rivers and the land and wildlife about which we care so deeply.