Charity Board Fires ED Who Was Attacked After Questioning Finances

The board of the Healing Arts Initiative has fired two key staff members who called attention last year to a $750,000 embezzlement scheme at the organization, the New York Times reports.

D. Alexandra Dyer was several weeks into her tenure as executive director last August when she questioned a staff accountant about years of bookkeeping lapses and missing funds; two days later, Dyer was attacked with a chemical drain cleaner containing lye by a man allegedly enlisted by the accountant who had been confronted. After being hospitalized for months and undergoing multiple operations for burns on her face, Dyer returned to work in January. The board said in a statement that it fired Dyer and Frank Williams, the chief financial officer she had hired to resolve the accounting inconsistencies, for withholding "critical financial and other information." The position of executive director has been filled, for the time being, by former Charity Navigator president Ken Berger.

Williams told the Times the firings were retaliatory and that the board wanted to avoid scrutiny of its history of fiduciary negligence. Last month, Dyer sued the board on behalf of the charity, seeking its removal and insisting on the formation of an audit committee made up of two new board members and one holdover that would report its findings to the New York State attorney general's office. Dyer said that in 2011 the board had fired another chief financial officer who complained about the employee in question issuing duplicate payroll checks. Kitty Lunn, a former board member, has said the board ignored her pleas to investigate the organization's finances. Timothy Gilles, a spokesperson for the board, told the Times "the lawsuit is not the reason for the terminations."

"With deadlines for IRS tax filings, audited financial statements, and various requests from funders just a week away," the board said in a statement, it had become apparent "that Healing Arts Initiative [would] not survive if Ms. Dyer remains as executive director....The board and outside financial advisers and consultants have made numerous requests and had multiple conversations with Ms. Dyer and Chief Financial Officer Frank Williams in an attempt to get critical financial and other information, but that information has not been forthcoming."

For her part, Dyer said the information "has been so forthcoming it’s laughable." Her lawyer, Ronald G. Russo, said Dyer was considering filing a whistleblower lawsuit.

"This is happening because we exposed them," Williams said. "They’re trying to kill a great organization."