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Tens of thousands in private funding missing from Palm Beach County convention bureau

By Emily Roach and Jennifer Sorentrue - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Officials with the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau said Wednesday that the agency’s bank is investigating a check fraud scheme involving its private account after someone in Maryland forged and cashed two checks totaling $53,000.

The nonprofit discovered the fraud during a routine audit of its bank accounts.

“It was very scary, but it was caught during the reconciliations,” said Glenn Jergensen, the bureau’s senior vice president for operations.

The CVB receives county bed-tax money to promote and market the area as a tourist destination. But it also receives private funds from its members and industry partners.

County officials said the money was drawn from the agency’s private funds and that no county tax money was involved. The theft will not affect the bureau’s marketing, Deputy County Administrator Verdenia Baker said.

“It has no impact on us whatsoever,” Baker said.

The checks were drawn Jan. 7 and Jan. 10, from the nonprofit’s Discover Palm Beach County Inc. account, Jergensen said. Both the Wells Fargo Fraud Department and State of Maryland law enforcement are investigating, he added.

Jergensen said the bank is closely monitoring the nonprofit’s account for any other fraudulent activity. The agency said that no employees were involved in the fraud.

The CVB was the subject of a major theft investigation in 2006, when former controller Donna M. Duffer admitted stealing almost $1.6 million over a three-year period to support her gambling addiction. In 2007, Duffer was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The embezzlement scandal rocked the nonprofit bureau, forcing the retirement of the bureau’s longtime CEO, Warren “Mac” McLaughlin, and the resignation of Lee Davis, former vice president of finance and Duffer’s immediate supervisor.

Stinging audits blamed “gross mismanagement” and lack of controls for the bureau’s failure to catch the theft sooner.

In the most recent fraud case, the agency’s internal controls worked and CVB officials were able to quickly identify the theft, Baker said.

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