Memphis Deaf Organization Audited for Unauthorized Checks of $25,000.00
By Mary Pat Luetke-Stahlman
Memphis, TN - A non-profit organization known as DeafConnect of the Mid-South has been audited and caught mismanaging funds. Unauthorized checks totaling nearly $25,000 were forged and DeafConnect attempted to reconcile their financial records; the auditors, however, could not determine whether the stolen funds were from taxpayer dollars or other revenue due to poor record keeping (Jonee Lewis - WREG). The Finance Director, who was accused for forging the checks, and the Executive Director are no longer with DeafConnect [the Executive Director resigned last year in August].
As shown in the audit, the former Finance Director wrote out “unauthorized checks for a total of $24,640.00” and the auditors were unable to calculate the amount taken from DeafConnect’s Department of Human Services grant. Teresa Wilson, DeafConnect’s consulting manager, summarized the situation to WREG with this statement: “There are financial challenges. That is the whole crux of it.”
A community member mentioned that the previous Executive Director did not report to the IRS for two years and apparently, this audit was the final straw. In response to The Deaf Report, Dawn Weaver, one of DeafConnect’s current Board members, said that there is nothing going on and that everything is in the works. DeafConnect is not accepting any new grants until a new Executive Director is hired and there has not been any lapses in services or programs.
In WREG’s News 3 Channel video, local community members are shown gathered together in a large room. One female attendee commented that “they [DeafConnect] kicked out all the Deaf people and put in more hearing people to be in charge,” while another female attendee warned, “You need to watch out. They [DeafConnect] does not care about services for the Deaf - all they care about is the money.”
Janie Zweig, one of the attendees shown in the video, expressed her concerns about the lack of trust in the current management at DeafConnect. Zweig is hoping that the community’s submission of a petition to the Deaf Council in Nashville will prompt quick action to address the “lack of services.”
This petition was created in response to the interest Bridges for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, a nonprofit organization located in Nashville, has demonstrated in regard to the idea of taking over the Memphis area. Some constituents want DeafConnect to shut down because they have “had enough,” while others are pushing for Bridges for Deaf and Hard of Hearing to take over for essential services to resume.
Through e-mail correspondence with The Deaf Report, Weaver was provided an opportunity to expound more on DeafConnect’s decision-making process and progress. When asked why DeafConnect’s consulting manager is also the interim Executive Director, Weaver said that DeafConnect was well-run and highly respected in the Deaf community under the consulting manager’s leadership in years prior so it made sense to have her return for the turnaround efforts.
Weaver also went on to add, “We are actively seeking Board members who are equally committed to serving the Deaf community in the most efficient, customer-focused way possible.“ An individual who attended the Board meeting last night shared with other community members that there were only two Board members on the roster, not three as Weaver mentioned.
When asked why the community feels conflicted with DeafConnect’s performance, Weaver responded, “Perceptions are not facts. Change is challenging for everyone. The fact is, a necessary turnaround is taking place for an agency that was on the brink of failure. Anyone who cares about the Deaf community will cheer the changes. We here at DeafConnect are focused on serving the Deaf and hard of hearing community now and in the future.”
Early on in correspondence, one of DeafConnect’s interns informed The Deaf Report that there will be a town hall meeting on Saturday: “The town hall is at 1:30 p.m. Central Standard Time and it is open to the public.” Weaver expects that DeafConnect will announce the search for the next Executive Director at the meeting as well on “appropriate venues, such as LinkedIn” and their official Facebook page.
DeafConnect of the Mid-South can be found on Facebook here.