April 20, 2010; Austin American-Statesman | This is one of those stories that just keep getting worse. Last week, Family Connections of Austin, Texas was forced to shut down after investigators discovered years of false audits. This week prosecutors allege that Louanne Aponte, the group’s former director, pocketed thousands of dollars and, among other things, used the money for a $53,000 Mercedes-Benz convertible.
But wait, there’s more. Now investigators are trying to determine if other nonprofits where Aponte worked are missing money. Gregg Coxx, director of Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit, told the Austin American Statesman, “We are investigating allegations of theft from other entities.” They include the Texas Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, where Aponte had served as volunteer treasurer for a decade and had managed its books since 2003.
Because she sat on a committee that reviewed grants made by Hyde Park Christian Church, investigators are scouring its records to be sure no money is missing. Ready for more? Only after questions began surfacing about financial misdeeds at Family Connections did investigators—going through old court records—find that in the 1980s Aponte had been convicted and served prison time stealing as much as $60,000 from two employers.
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Aponte had been out of prison for three years and on parole when Family Connections hired her to work in the agency’s finance department in 1990. According to the newspaper, Mike Rush, executive director at the time, didn’t know of her criminal record and couldn’t recall if a background check had been done. Aponte has a lot of questions to answer, and prosecutors hope to ask them. Problem is, and this is the final chapter in the story—so far, they can’t find her. Some think she might have skipped the country.
If there’s ever an epilogue written for this story, it will have to answer the question: how did the board stand idly by, and not institute proper financial controls both for the sake of the organization and the thousands of children it was meant to help?—Bruce Trachtenberg