SAN ANTONIO — The plot is thickening at a downtown agency hit by an embezzlement scheme, and the losses are growing.
Centro San Antonio accountant Alicia Henderson, who allegedly ran the scam, was previously convicted of felony bank fraud. Centro hired her without a background check in 2014.
Months after she came on board, money started disappearing from Centro accounts. When the embezzlement scheme finally came to light last month, city officials reported $175,000 was taken.
Now the loss is pegged at $260,000. Henderson has not been charged.
Questions over who knew what and when loom over City Hall. City Manager Sheryl Sculley and Deputy City Manager Lori Houston sit on the Centro Board of Directors.
Centro CEO Pat DiGiovanni, a longtime Sculley associate dating back to their days with city government in Kalamazoo, Mich., resigned last month.
San Antonio Police are conducting the investigation, though financial fraud is within the jurisdiction of the FBI.
“The FBI has shown interest in the case, but its involvement is ‘minimal’ because the SAPD wants to keep control,” according to a source quoted by the San Antonio Express-News on Sunday.
Henderson, who Centro hired from a temp agency, has a troubled financial history. In the 1980s, she was twice charged with theft of checks. After her bank fraud conviction in 1997, she was ordered to pay $133,614 in restitution.
She and her husband fought home foreclosure on multiple occasions. She filed for bankruptcy twice — in 2013 and last March, claiming debts up to $500,000.
Centro’s board of directors has a standing committee tasked with overseeing audits conducted by independent firms. There’s also a finance committee to review internal documents and financial statements, according to Don Frost, a local banker who chairs the Centro board.
Asked why the embezzlement scam went unnoticed for three years, Frost told the Express-News: “They assumed the management and employees were all giving them accurate information.”
Houston said neither she nor Sculley were on the finance committee. “We would not have seen it coming,” she said.
But the city knew there were problems at Centro.
Last year, the city conducted an audit of its contract with the nonprofit and determined that Centro and the Center City Development and Operations Department “do not have effective monitoring controls in place.”
The report went on to state, “The quarterly reports Centro submits to the city are not received timely [sic] and are not reviewed by CCDO personnel.” In some cases, Centro’s invoices were lacking support, the audit said.
DiGiovanni said he interviewed Henderson but wasn’t aware of her past and didn’t make the decision to hire her. That was done by Tony Piazzi, Centro’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer. Piazzi has not commented.
Frost told the Express-News that Centro’s board is discussing a separation agreement with DiGiovanni, in part to ensure the former Centro CEO cooperates with investigators. DiGiovanni was paid $215,437 in fiscal 2014, the latest year his salary was reported by the agency.