Last fall I reported on a multi-part series by the Washington Post on nonprofits that lost a lot of money because of embezzlement by employees. One of the cases featured in the “philanthropic diversions” series was Ephonia Green, who was indicted on charges that she stole $5.1 million from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) between 2005-13. Green worked as an administrative assistant for AAMC handling accounts payable and receivable.
Last week, Green was convicted of all charges and sentenced to sixteen months in prison. Judge Beryl Howell told Green, “You strike me, despite your tears here, as a very skilled con artist.” Judge Howell also declared that federal marshals seize Green’s home and bridal shop and use the proceeds as partial restitution for her crimes.
Because WUSA, the CBS affiliate in Washington, posted the indictment, we can detail what prosecutors charged Green with doing. The prosecutors say Green created three phony companies: “FCI,” “UHC,” and the “Brookings Institute.” “FCI” stood for Fabulous Concepts, Inc., the corporate name for a bridal shop Green ran in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. “FCI was never a legitimate vendor of AAMC,” according to the indictment, but Green nonetheless was charged with processing eighty false invoices using the company’s name for $1.4 million.
Copy-editors know that the full name of the center-left think tank is the Brookings Institution. But Green was able to submit and get reimbursed for 225 checks made out to the “Brookings Institution”—with the correct address and phone number -- for $3.7 million. They were endorsed by Green and deposited in a Bank of America account and signed by Green “DBA Brookings Institute Ephonia Green Sole Prop.” The bank apparently never questioned the discrepancy.
What the prosecutors say was Green’s downfall was when she tried to mimic the University Health System Consortium (commonly known as “UHC”) by setting up a phony company called “Universal Health Consulting Consortium.” However, when Green tried to deposit a $113,000 check made out to “UHC” into a Bank of America account, the bank held it, and alerted authorities, actions that ultimately led to Green’s indictment and conviction.
The story might not be over. An investigative report from the NBC station in Charlotte, North Carolina, says that Ephonia Green’s church, the United House of Prayer for All People, celebrated Green as one of the church’s top ten givers after her indictment. Rev. Ronald Belton, who was dismissed by the House of Prayer’s Charlotte branch and who was suing in a wrongful termination case, made the charges. Details are murky, but a good investigative reporter might shed some light on the United House of Prayer’s relations with Ephonia Green.
The Green case should remind nonprofits to make sure their organizations have strong financial controls. It shouldn’t be as easy to steal from nonprofits as the Green case makes it appear to be.