Nonprofit targeted again with high-dollar theft

Triangle Area Network

TAN gets back $312,000 stolen by ex-director

In April of this year, when former executive director Peggy Lynn Gibson admitted to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the agency commonly known as the Triangle AIDS Network (TAN) to fund lavish gifts and goodies for herself and her children at the expense of the medical care for the patients she oversaw, the board of directors and support staff could hardly believe anyone was capable of such a heinous crime. 

They would really be surprised, then, when another culprit took advantage of the agency’s recovery period and used it as an opportunity to pilfer tens of thousands of dollars more from the nonprofit’s already busted coffers.

The second theft of reportedly between $60,000 and $160,000 occurred while Gibson was facing punishment for her crimes against the agency. According to reports from those close to the investigation into the alleged theft, the employee responsible was actually brought in to assist in fixing financial controls and facilitating best accounting practices in the wake of the Gibson scandal. The suspect, 43-year-old Alecia Gamble of Orange, was only with the agency for six months – terminated in April, the same month Gibson admitted to her crime – but in that short amount of time, she’s alleged to have used a debit card meant to purchase medication for TAN patients as her own personal piggy bank, running up bills accountants are still sifting through months later. 

Gamble could not be reached for comment as of press time.

TAN, now operating as the Triangle Area Network, extending its services beyond AIDS and HIV education and treatment to all manner of patients who don’t have sufficient medical insurance to receive the treatment they need, was hit hard by the initial theft and is all the more fractured in the wake of the subsequent embezzlement revelation. According to new Executive Director Dena Hughes, who was brought on staff in June after both thefts already occurred and the alleged offenders removed from the ranks of TAN, the Board of Directors has gone from 9 to 4. Even longtime president Jeff McManus, who had been at the helm of the nonprofit for decades, said he has resigned from the agency amid the latest fiasco.

“I wasn’t going to be the face of this again,” McManus said, “and I won’t.

“I might have seemed like I went through that well (the first time) but I really didn’t. It’s been a bad thing.”

Hughes said the past employee thefts have been a constant detriment to moving forward, and has taken a toll not only on the agency’s finances, but on its clients and staff as well.

“The funny part – and the part that breaks my heart – is the staff here is amazing,” Hughes said through tears, as she laid out the dedicated manner in which her fellow TAN staffers battle through the negativity that has beset them on all sides. “They don’t stop. Whatever they need to do, whatever I ask them to do, they do. I’m so proud of them. You see them getting up every day, not making a lot of money, helping people, going through the trouble to be here and be who the community needs them to be, and still uncertain of how long we will be able to do this.

“I feel for them because they have to live here through that. They’re quite special and they don’t deserve this.”

Hughes said funding is already hard to come by, even when all things are going smoothly, but with two high-dollar employee crimes taking up a sizable share of the agency’s funds, it’s been all but impossible to secure donors and grants. And without funding, the nonprofit could be in danger of shuttering.

“I’m just ducking my head and working,” she said. “We don’t know the outcome with the funders – and the community. We need that support. But when we are faced with this, it’s understandable that people are going ‘no.’

“These abuses have a tremendous impact on people who need the services.”

According to Hughes, TAN tried to recoup its loss from the alleged perpetrator prior to filing charges with the Beaumont Police Department. The agency secured the assistance of an attorney to send a demand for payment letter some time ago.

“We have not heard from her since,” Hughes said. “Two of the board members went and filed their report after that.”

BPD received TAN’s theft report Sept. 28, but the investigation is still ongoing as detectives work to decipher just how much money Gamble took while in possession of TAN’s debit card. Some members of the board did not want the publicity that would come with filing a police report, worried that funders would be reticent to continue to contribute to the theft-burdened nonprofit. Others wanted justice.

“It was more of making sure our ducks were in a row and we had done everything we could,” Hughes said of waiting until September to file a report of theft that was discovered in April. “A part of it was just a matter of due diligence. There was definitely a lot of discussion, though, among the board members in light of what we had recently experienced. We were mindful of the steps we were taking – and, mind you, we wanted to be sure. We didn’t want to accuse anyone of something they didn’t do, and we didn’t want to rush into anything before we knew what we were doing.”

In the end, the board agreed to try and get the money back from Gamble but could not agree on how to move forward after the refund never came through. Just how much was stolen, though, is still uncertain.

“There have been multiple numbers we have received for a myriad of reasons…,” she said. For example, she added, “some of the charges or activity could have been legitimate,” but not all – such as ATM withdrawals made at pharmacies TAN uses to fill client prescriptions.

“Part of what we were trying to do was be diligent on review,” Hughes furthered. “It was really a dig, a hunt, and it required someone who knows what they’re looking at to find it. We’re still looking through it, but now so are investigators.”

As TAN officials decide how to best proceed through the new challenges on the horizon with yet another alleged thief ousted from the agency, the first one to take a bite out of the nonprofit’s funds is still offering to pay back the money she stole in exchange for a lighter sentence. The once robust nine-member board of TAN had thought it a viable and acceptable offer, and Hughes hopes the negation is still ongoing.

Handed down a sentence of 15 years in prison in August for stealing $312,000 from TAN, Gibson said she’ll pay back the amount she admits she stole while the nonprofit’s executive director – within a month – if TAN and the judge overseeing the matter, 252nd District Court Judge Raquel West, agree to cutting the prison sentence in half.

According to a court filing made on the 30-day deadline to appeal the Aug. 8 court sentencing, TAN was in agreement but was told it was a no-go. The attorney originally representing Gibson in the appeal negotiation, Henry Coe, asked to be removed as Gibson’s attorney last month, but was instructed by the judge to see Gibson’s appeal process through. Instead, Gibson secured new legal representation in local attorney Dustin Galmor, who is also seeking to keep the after-the-sentence deal in play. According to Galmor, a hearing date on the matter has yet to be set.

“If we can move past the past, then our agency has the history and foundation to be really, really amazing,” Hughes said. “God is real, so it’s going to be what it is. As long as we keep doing our part, our work, things will work out. How? I don’t know, but I think everyone has the best intentions for the agency at heart, and we will work to keep this mission going.”

Hughes said times are hard for the nonprofit right now, but she is hopeful they will be able to come through this dark tunnel in their history and back into the light on the other side. Either way, she’s in it for the long haul.

“This is my community,” she said. “These are my people. To walk away now – God didn’t make me that way, and neither did my mama.”