NHF Foundation; recovery of funds was priority

Published 7:13 pm Thursday, April 20, 2017

NEDERLAND — For the first time since allegations surfaced in 2016, representatives of the Nederland Heritage Festival admitted on Thursday that some of their donations had been stolen.

The recovery of missing funds was the main motivation behind the Nederland Heritage Festival Foundation’s decision not to file formal charges in a case of missing money.

A media statement was issued by the attorney representing the festival foundation board on Thursday but was limited legally in what could be released to the public.

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The statement was issued in response to media requests for information regarding allegations of thefts of funds from the foundation.

According to the statement, in the spring of 2016, members of the festival board brought the issue to the attention of the foundation board of directors.

“Upon notice of these issues, the board immediately began its own initially informal investigation, which ultimately confirmed that misuse issues of some sort were apparent, according to the statement issued from attorney Jim Wimberley’s office. “Immediately thereafter, the foundation’s board began a more detailed and formal investigation, with that investigation being headed by outside counsel retained primarily for this purpose.”

The investigation began in late May 2016 and was not completed until September 2016. It “did not involve a full forensic audit due to the complexity of the accountings in question, cost analysis of any forensic audit and concerns that such an invasive audit could generate potential negative feedback to future festival operations.”

Persons with appropriate accounting and legal expertise performed the audit, which verified the potential misuse of foundation accounts and funds.

The investigation also showed the means that allowed for the misuse of accounts to occur without timely detection.

The foundation’s nonprofit status is in good standing, according to the statement.

A media relations employee with the IRS said via phone on Thursday that federal disclosure law prohibits the IRS from discussing or commenting on any specific taxpayer or entity.

After the investigation there was a shift toward possible recovery of the funds. The media statement did not indicate the amount of funds that were misused but several people close to the issue stated the amount is of six figures.

“The result of that investigation and analysis indicated very limited potential collectability of funds from the offending parties,” the statement read. “More particularly, the investigation indicated an extremely limited ability of the foundation to recover even a minimal portion of the subject funds, utilizing applicable Texas civil and other procedures, from the offending parties.”

Hence, no charges were filed against the person suspected of stealing the funds as the board focused on recovery of the funds.

At this time the foundation board had a decision to make; proceed with criminal charges or cut a deal that included repayment of a specified portion of the money along with the caveat that the person’s name or other information about the incident be released.

The board looked toward the charitable works it pays into such as scholarships to students and grants to the city’s police and fire departments.

The decision not to prosecute the person was made unanimously by the foundation board with the exception of Nederland Police Chief Darrell Bush, who recused himself due to potential future conflicts.

“The Board believes that its actions in regards to this controversy, given the totality of the circumstances and issues facing the Foundation, were clearly in the best interests of the Foundation and our community and despite statements made by others, were in no way an attempt to “cover up” any wrongdoing by the offending parties,” the statement read