Former Head of D.C. United Way Pleads Guilty to Fraud

Oral Suer, the former chief executive of the United Way of the National Capital Area, has pleaded guilty to defrauding the charity of almost $500,000, the Washington Post reports.

Prosecutors said Suer, who headed the organization for twenty-seven years until his retirement in February 2001, charged the United Way for personal expenses such as bowling equipment and trips to Las Vegas, paid himself $333,000 for annual leave not taken, and awarded himself $94,000 more from the agency's pension plan than he was owed. In his plea, Suer admitted to transporting stolen money across state lines and making false statements and concealing facts relating to an employee retirement plan. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 14, and faces a maximum fine of $500,000 and up to fifteen years in prison. The plea agreement, which requires Suer to make restitution to the United Way, did not specify a sentence. His attorney, Graeme Bush, said in court that federal sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of twenty-one to twenty-seven months.

Officials of United Way, which has filed a civil suit against Suer, said they felt vindicated by his guilty plea but expressed disappointment at the amount of money he admitted to siphoning from the agency and said they will push for a stiff sentence. "We feel that the amount of the loss was higher," CEO Charles W. Anderson told the Post. The civil suit against Suer alleges fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment and seeks $1.6 million in damages. United Way officials said they were close to reaching a settlement with Suer two weeks ago but that the deal had collapsed.

Since the scandal broke in 2002, the United Way of the National Capital Area has fallen on hard times. Its corporate fundraising drive last fall raised about $19 million, compared with the more than $90 million it raised in 2001. It also has been forced to lay off more than half its workforce, close several regional offices, and surrender its contract to run the workplace campaign for federal employees.

Jacqueline L. Salmon. "Area United Way's Ex-Chief Admits $500,000 Fraud." Washington Post 03/05/2004.