February 3, 2016 at 2:07 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Former AIDS official pleads guilty to embezzlement
Frank Oldham, NAPWA, National Association of People With AIDS, National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, gay news, Washington Blade

Frank Oldham Jr., former executive director of NAPWA, pleaded guilty to embezzlement. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Frank Oldham Jr., the former executive director of the National Association of People with AIDS, pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Tuesday to a charge that he embezzled money from the organization in 2012 shortly before it declared bankruptcy.

Oldham’s plea of guilty to a single charge of “Embezzlement—Fraudulent Misappropriation by a Fiduciary” was part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors in exchange for their agreement to drop five of the six counts with which he was charged in a grand jury indictment in September.

The agreement, which is described in a plea memorandum filed in court, requires Oldham to make restitution in the amount of $11,238.08 to a U.S. bankruptcy trustee overseeing the NAPWA estate.

The indictment alleges that Oldham stole between $10,000 and $100,000 from NAPWA in November 2012. The alleged theft took place three months before NAPWA filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February 2013. At the time of the bankruptcy filing, NAPWA announced it was going out of business 30 years after it was founded in 1983 as the nation’s leading organization representing people with AIDS.

Thomas DeGonia, Oldham’s attorney, told the Washington Blade on Wednesday that Oldham has admitted to improperly taking from NAPWA the $11,238.08 he has agreed to repay as restitution. But DeGonia says Oldham has not admitted to allegations that he took or improperly spent any additional funds from NAPWA.

DeGonia points out that prosecutors have not presented evidence in the plea agreement that Oldham was responsible for improperly taking any additional funds.

Oldham served as executive director and CEO of NAPWA from January 2006 to November 2012. According to a memorandum filed in bankruptcy court in February 2014, he was placed on administrative leave with pay on Nov. 8, 2012 and terminated from his employment with NAPWA on Nov. 27, 2012.

The memorandum was written and submitted by Tyler TerMeer, chair of the NAPWA Board of Trustees. It says Oldham was terminated “for breach of his employment agreement for improper credit card expenditures and cash withdrawals of NAPWA funds subsequent to the date he was placed on administrative leave.”

TerMeer’s memo says that based on an internal analysis of NAPWA bank account and credit card records it appeared that Oldham was responsible for improperly spending or withdrawing from NAPWA accounts a total of approximately $62,641.95, which includes the $11,238 figure. But the memo says accounting and expenditure records prior to the 2012 period were either missing or in disarray and it could not be determined whether Oldham was responsible for improperly withdrawing or spending additional NAPWA funds.

TerMeer’s memo concludes by saying the board asked the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office to investigate the matter, a development that NAPWA insiders have said led to Oldham’s indictment.

TerMeer and all other NAPWA board members withheld the findings of their internal investigation into Oldham’s alleged actions at the time and never publicly disclosed he had been suspended and fired. Instead, the board let stand an announcement it made in the fall of 2012 that Oldham planned to resign.

The Maryland criminal code lists the charge of Embezzlement—Fraudulent Misappropriation by a Fiduciary as a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of five years of incarceration.

The plea agreement filed in Circuit Court on Tuesday says sentencing guidelines for the charge are estimated to range from probation to six months of incarceration.

“The defendant waives his right to request probation before judgment disposition until such time as restitution has been paid in full,” the plea memorandum says. “The defendant understands that the State reserves its right to oppose any request for probation before judgment disposition,” it says.

Former NAPWA Board of Trustee member Tom Donohue became the first NAPWA official to comment on Oldham’s alleged actions and indictment on Tuesday when he posted a statement on his Facebook page.

“Today’s guilty plea reminds me of the frustration I had when I personally looked over documents bearing Frank’s signature withdrawing funds from the NAPWA account after he was suspended by the board,” Donohue wrote.

“It made me ponder how a man that represented and became the voice for so many infected who had no voice could steal from the same organization which gave him that honor,” he said. “The justice system has done its job and now it’s important that all those who were impacted by NAPWA come forward and share the many stories of how the organization impacted their lives.”

DeGonia said Oldham is remorseful for his illegal actions but noted that they occurred, at least in part, because Oldham needed the money to survive personally at a time when NAPWA’s financial crisis that led to the bankruptcy resulted in his working without pay.

“I’m not trying to excuse it,” he said. “I’m not saying he didn’t take that money in appropriately for his own personal needs. But this wasn’t a situation where he was living out some lavish lifestyle at the expense of something else. He needed it to pay the rent and pay his personal expenses.”

When asked about the TerMeer memo’s report that Oldham used the NAPWA credit card to charge several thousand dollars in bar tabs at the D.C. gay bar Number 9, DeGonia suggested that Oldham could have used the upscale Number 9 bar to legitimately meet potential NAPWA donors or others capable of awarding grants to the organization.

“Did he entertain donors?” asked DeGonia. “Did he meet people there? He certainly did. That’s not what he pled guilty to. That’s not what the state had the evidence of him doing.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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