Woodruff Arts Center officials said Tuesday that a former employee submitted $1.438 million in fraudulent invoices over the last five years.
They didn’t find out about it until the unnamed “mid-level” administrator, employed since 2004, left the center at the end of October for reasons unrelated to the alleged embezzlement, said Woodruff President and CEO Virginia Hepner.
A few days after his departure, some “suspicious” invoices were brought to Hepner’s attention and an internal investigation was conducted. It quickly became apparent that the departed administrator had bilked the arts center out of a substantial amount of money, officials said at a Tuesday morning news conference.
“This individual was able to find a weakness in our interior controls,” said Woodruff Board Chair Larry Gellerstedt. “No one here knew any of this was going on.”
According to Hepner, the alleged thief acknowledged culpability when confronted with evidence uncovered by the arts center’s internal investigation.
The suspect has not been charged but Hepner said she has alerted the U.S. Attorney’s Office and plans to share findings with prosecutors.
In the meantime, officials are seeking to reassure donors their money is being used responsibly. While the embezzled funds account for just a fraction of the $100 million in revenue Woodruff takes in annually, the culprit easily exploited what were gaping holes in the arts center’s oversight processes, officials said.
“The first way to re-establish credibility is to let folks know this happened,” Gellerstedt said. “We take it very seriously, and we’re on it.”
Hepner said Woodruff has, in recent weeks, added outside auditors, creating a new layer of oversight.
“We think we have very good people and processes in place now,” she said.
After a rough week in Washington, President Barack Obama came to rainy Atlanta on Sunday to be with a friendlier crowd, becoming the first sitting president to give the commencement address at Morehouse College.