Humane Society staff ‘stunned’ by theft discovery | News

A meeting to discuss the next expansion of a nonprofit’s facilities and the consolidation of its banking services turned into a terrible shock.

Lori Bainum, a member of the board of directors of the Humane Society of the Nature Coast, described as something like a body blow the realization that a trusted former employee allegedly had been stealing from the organization.

“We have a strategic planning session every year where we look and see what we’ve accomplished and then what’s left on our list and what else do we want to add to it. We had decided that we were going to consolidate some of our banks just to make it easier to deal with, and so when we went to consolidate our banks, that’s when we found out that some of the balances were not as they were reconciled in our statements from our accounting firm, ”she said. “And that’s when we started to raise questions, starting to figure out something was not correct.”

The people at the organization were stunned to learn that they were the victims of an alleged crime.

“As soon as we found out, which was three weeks prior to the press conference with the Sheriff’s Department, that’s when we knew and that’s when we called the authorities.”

Former development director Susana Arneson and her husband, Douglas O’Berry, inflicted pain on the organization, board members are not as trusting as they were before and some plans are being delayed, but Bainum said, they’re going to recover from their financial losses and keep working for animals.

The couple is alleged to have stolen $ 1.5 million from the nonprofit.

Arneson is being held on $ 750,000 bond at the Hernando County Detention Center, according to the inmate locator at the Sheriff’s Office’s website. Through her di lei attorney di lei, Omar Abdelghany, she has entered a plea of ​​not guilty. She is to appear in court on April 12.

Abdelghany said he had just gotten the case and had not had a chance to look at it yet.

O’Berry’s bond was lowered and he was released on March 1 on $ 100,000 bond. His attorney of him, Roger Futerman, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

More charges are possible as the sheriff’s investigation continues.

Bainum said that while the organization’s new cat facility is open, they were planning to use the lost money to get to work on a new facility for dogs that would have expanded their capacity to 32 kennels.

They hope that through the sale of property and inventory to reclaim some of the missing funds, but the money paid in salaries to Arneson and used for her physical changes and overseas travel is gone forever, most likely.

Bainum said when Arneson was hired there were no unexplainable red flags in the background check, and that everyone who worked with her at the Humane Society said she was a wonderful person who cared for the animals.

Arneson’s appearance did change, and Bainum said they accepted Arneson’s explanation.

“She led us to believe that she was suffering from cancer, and that she was going through the treatment of cancer, and that was why she was losing weight and things like that,” Bainum said. “Why would she want to make up that she had cancer?”

Arneson also said she was losing her hair, but Bainum said she never noticed any hair loss.

Arneson left on good terms in August 2021.

“She did let us know that she had come into a large inheritance from her father, and that’s why she was able to resign her job, and why she was able to buy those types of things,” Bainum said.

Arneson and O’Berry bought the Precision Tackle store on Commercial Way from its original owners but leased the property for that and Arneson’s boutique business. A recent visit found both businesses closed and notices demanding access taped to the glass doors.

More than money was lost, Bainum said. A lot of trust is gone.

“We had what has been considered ‘best practices’ by most organizations,” she said.

“All of those things were properly in place.”

Now, board members are collecting the mail, which they hope will prevent employees from intercepting envelopes. They’re making sure no one can intercept their funding again.

It’s just been so hard for them to believe what happened, Bainum said.

“When you realize that was somebody you couldn’t trust, it’s a sickening feeling. You feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach, ”she said. “You feel violated, and then there’s a bunch of anger, and then there’s picking yourself up and figuring out what’s the next step.”

Their mission still is to help the animals in the community and the people who care for them.

“That’s why we are here, that’s why we exist and that’s why we rely on everyone’s generosity and donations to take care of our furry friends,” Bainum said. “That’s our mission and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

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