Centro bookkeeper accused of embezzlement found via Craigslist ad
by Richard Webner, January 15, 2018, published by the San Antonio Express News
It all started with a Craiglist post.
Alicia Henderson, the local woman accused of embezzling $291,000 from Centro San Antonio, responded to a job listing on that website in early 2014 posted by local accounting agency Keys Bookkeeping, according to Kyle Edwards, whose wife, Keyona, is the agency’s founder.
At that time, Centro had been using Keys for almost a year to help keep its books in order and the agency sent Henderson, an accountant, to the nonprofit, he said.
Less than a month later, Centro hired Henderson from Keys to be its office manager and staff accountant, Edwards said. The nonprofit paid her an annual salary of about $57,000 funded mostly by taxpayers, Centro officials said.
“We sent one of our contractors out there to help them out, and they basically hired her from under us,” Edwards said. “It was shady the way the whole thing ended with Centro and Keys Bookkeeping. You reap what you sow … you do bad, you get bad in return.”
Centro attorney Michael Bernard said there was “nothing shady” about the nonprofit’s hiring of Henderson.
“Centro, at the time, hired Alicia directly because it was the cheaper way to go,” he said. “Keys was acting as a temp service, not an employment service, so Centro hired a person who was available to be hired.”
Last month, Centro leaders admitted they didn’t perform a background check before hiring Henderson, so they didn’t know she had pleaded guilty to felony bank fraud in 1997 and had been charged twice with theft by check.
She also has declared bankuptcy twice, and her home has teetered at the edge of foreclosure for five years.
Keys Bookkeeping generally runs background checks on its hires, Edwards said, but he couldn’t say whether it ran one on Henderson. It could be that the background check wasn’t completed during the short time Henderson worked for Keys, he said.
The amount of money alleged to have been embezzled from Centro has risen to $291,000 from $175,000 when the scandal was announced in November. Bernard said he’s confident the amount won’t rise any more since its unlikely investigators missed much in the places they haven’t fully reviewed yet.
“I think we’ve found everything through the forensic search that’s out there,” he said. “We know what the (objective) was, we know what different methods could have been employed to take it, but in our course of reviewing everything, we haven’t found anything more.”
Centro acts as an advocacy group for the downtown community — including business owners and real estate developers — but it also has a multimillion-dollar contract with the city to manage the downtown public improvement district, or PID, which collects property taxes to perform extra services such as street sweeping and graffiti removal. Since October 2013, the city has paidCentro $18 million to run the PID on its behalf.
At least 75 percent of Henderson’s salary at Centro came from money for the PID — in essence, taxpayer money — Centro spokeswoman Trish DeBerry said. Bernard said she made about $57,000 a year.
Investigators still haven’t uncovered evidence that Henderson embezzled any PID money, Bernard said.
The alleged embezzlement is being investigated by Centro, the city and the Police Department. The SAPD will determine whether any charges are filed, Bernard said.
The SAPD said in a statement Friday afternoon that the case “is still under investigation and no arrest has been made.”
It’s unclear exactly when Centro started using Keys. Ben Brewer, who served as executive vice president of Centro until spring 2014, said the nonprofit started using Keys after Pat DiGiovanni became its president and CEO in January 2013.
Another source with knowledge of Centro’s workings at the time, who asked to remain anonymous because of the ongoing investigation, said Keys did work for the Downtown Alliance, a downtown advocacy group that later became part of Centro, before DiGiovanni took his role.
DiGiovanni, who hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing, resigned from Centro shortly after the embezzlement allegations surfaced in November.
When Centro’s in-house bookkeeper retired, the nonprofit’s COO and CFO, Tony Piazzi, asked Keys if it could handle the extra workload, Edwards said. Keys agreed, but it needed to hire another employee to do so, so it created the job listing on Craigslist and hired Henderson, he said.
Henderson worked for Keys for only a few weeks, receiving only one paycheck, before Centro decided to hire her directly, Edwards said. He and his wife were upset with Centro, but when they emailed Piazzi, he pointed out that there was no noncompete clause in the agreement they signed, Edwards said.
Bernard said Edwards’ description of Henderson’s history with Keys and Centro “sounds reasonable,” but he couldn’t confirm many of the details.
From around 2009 to 2012, Keyona Edwards worked for Akin, Doherty, Klein & Feuge P.C., the local accounting firm that audited Centro, her husband said.
Tom Akin, co-managing partner at Akin Doherty, said Centro wasn’t a client of the firm when Edwards worked there. He said that she left to do bookkeeping on her own, which is “pretty common” in the industry.
“I think she always did a pretty good job,” he said.