Aponte Found, Money Gone
Aponte charged with embezzling more than
As reported in "Headlines" last week, Louanne Aponte, the former head of the Family Connections nonprofit who is accused of embezzling more than $300,000 from that organization, turned herself in last week. As it turns out, the damage she allegedly wrought was even worse than originally thought. According to the indictment handed down against her, Aponte actually stole more than $1 million, not only from Family Connections, but also from another nonprofit as well as from her church, Hyde Park Christian Church.
As suspected, Aponte had fled to Venezuela once improprieties in Family Connections' bookkeeping were discovered earlier this year. Her husband had relatives in that country, and the Statesman reported that she went there with a mere $3,500 in her pocket. According to Aponte's attorney, the rest of the money she took is gone – all spent. At this time, it's not clear why she voluntarily returned to the United States and surrendered.
Holly VanScoy did contract work for Family Connections as an external evaluator of its federally funded Collaboration to Reduce Abandonment and Deliver Local Education and Support program, or CRADLES, for more than half a decade and saw the inside of the organization as it imploded. "First there was a lot of disbelief, people wanting it to be something other than what it actually was," VanScoy told the Chronicle. "It was staff members trying to think, 'What else could have happened?' to explain it. And it was increasingly clear over a very short period that it was what it looked like. It was an embezzlement. The money was gone, and the agency was going to go down.
"I think the biggest lesson of the whole debacle is the inability of [Family Connections' board of directors], that the board itself was not in control of that agency. There's supposed to be a balance of power so that any one director cannot bring down an agency. ... When Louanne left, they appointed neither an interim director nor did they put anybody in charge of the finances for a full month.
"This is a woman who was an embezzler when she came," said VanScoy, referring to Aponte's previous criminal record, which escaped scrutiny when Family Connections first hired her in 1990; at the time, she was on parole for a theft conviction from 1987. "It's a great case study for anybody who's in the nonprofit field of how vulnerable you are when there's just one person with her hands in everything."