A King County judge has ruled that the former treasurer of the Friends of the Conservatory must pay back the tens of thousands he embezzled from the small Capitol Hill nonprofit last year.
In August a King County Superior Court judge issued a default judgement on Dan Celler after he failed to appear in court. According to the judgement, Celler must pay the FOC $91,000 which includes a stinging 12% annual interest rate. According to court documents, Celler embezzled $80,342, $20,000 more than what the FOC had initially estimated in its May lawsuit.
FOC’s executive director Anthonio Pettit tells CHS that Celler has apparently skipped town, back to his home state of Illinois and that he is unsure if the group would retrieve the money anytime soon.
FOC filed a police report following the default judgement in another effort to reclaim some of the stolen money. According to Seattle police, the case is ongoing.
“We’ve hit rock bottom with this,” Pettit said. “We’ve managed to figure out a way to keep up operations.”
In March, CHS reported on the group’s announcement that it had reached its goal on a $3.5 million capital campaign to fund a restoration of the 100-year-old Volunteer Park Conservatory’s east wing. In a statement on the lawsuit, the group said those funds are safe despite the financial malfeasance.
Pettit said the FOC and the conservatory gift shop, which the FOC runs, will likely close for two months during the planned upgrades to the facility. In addition to applying for grants to make up for lost revenue, Pettit said extra donations have gone a long way to keep the group alive.
“The membership was extremely generous to help us bridge the gap,” he said.
The judgement comes as CHS has uncovered an even larger alleged embezzlement at a Capitol Hill nonprofit. CHS reported on the civil suit against former Stevens Elementary Kids’ Club director Cathy Reed, who is accused of stealing more than $236,000 over three years from the provider of after school programs. Reed allegedly spent the money on multiple trips to Disneyland and Hawaii, a new car, a pet retreat, and thousands of dollars in college tuition payments, among other personal expenses.
Reed has an active license to operate a summer camp from her Lake Forest Park home. However according to the state Department of Revenue, the 5 Senses Day Camp is currently closed. CHS has been unable to contact Reed, or anyone else, through the camp telephone number.