Friends of the Conservatory seeks community support as embezzlement investigation continues

(Image: Seattle Parks)

(Image: Seattle Parks)

Still reeling from its open embezzlement investigation, the nonprofit group that supports the Volunteer Park Conservatory is now turning to others for support.

Earlier this month CHS broke news that the Friends of the Conservatory has sued its former treasurer, Daniel Celler, for embezzlement. The suit, filed in April, alleges that Celler stole more than $60,000 from FOC. The FOC’s $100,000 budget mostly derives from membership fees, plant and gift shop sales.

The Friends of the Conservatory is now asking local businesses to donate food, drinks, and auction items for a previously planned August 8th event. The event is being held to celebrate the final installation of Botanical Exotica, a collection of plant-inspired glassworks at the conservatory.

FOC earlier this year announced its completion of a $3.5 million capital campaign to complete an overhaul of the conservatory’s east wing. None of those funds were affected in the alleged embezzlement.

The FOC is still considering holding a designated fundraiser in the future to make up for its losses.

“We’re definitely in need of cash flow with our legal expenses,” said FOC executive director Anthonio Pettit. “It’s tough because we usually don’t do a fundraiser for operations.”

Pettit told CHS that the nonprofit’s forensic accountant will wrap her investigation into the embezzlement soon and hand off the report to Seattle Police. Pettit said that the process server has not yet been able to find Celler to serve him with court papers. CHS has also been unable to reach Celler for comment.

According to the lawsuit, sometime around December 2012, Celler transferred at least $66,670 into an account that was under his sole control. Pettit told CHS that he was unsure how Celler was spending the money, but that an initial investigation showed that he was using it for personal expenses.

The FOC held its annual meeting June 20. Pettit said news of the embezzlement went over much better than expected. “There was no backlash. We were bracing for the worst, but we didn’t see a reaction one way or the other,” he said.

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