April 6, 2016 at 5:11 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Former NAPWA director sentenced to six months in jail
Frank Oldham Jr., NAPWA, National Association of People With AIDS, National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, gay news, Washington Blade

Frank Oldham was led away in handcuffs after a judge sentenced him to begin a six-month sentence immediately. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Montgomery County, Md., Circuit Court judge on Monday sentenced Frank Oldham Jr., the former executive director of the National Association of People with AIDS, to six months in jail two months after he pleaded guilty to embezzling money from the organization in 2012.

During a hearing at the Rockville-based Circuit Court building, Judge Steven G. Salant sentenced Oldham to five years’ incarceration but suspended all but six months of time to be served. He also sentenced Oldham to three years of supervised probation upon his release and ordered that he undergo alcohol-related testing and treatment if needed.

As a condition for probation, Salant ordered that Oldham be prohibited from taking a job or providing services in a “fiduciary capacity” during the term of his probation.

In a development that startled friends and former colleagues who attended the sentencing hearing, guards placed Oldham in handcuffs and escorted him out of the courtroom after Salant ordered that he begin serving his sentence immediately.

Last week, as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, Oldham paid $11,238.08 in restitution for money he was accused of embezzling from NAPWA in 2012 shortly before the group declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy and closed its doors 30 years after it was founded in 1983.

“The defendant committed multiple acts in this embezzlement scheme,” according to a sentencing memorandum submitted to the court by Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy. “With each individual act, the defendant violated the trust put in him by NAPWA,” the sentencing memo states.

“The State believes that punishment must go beyond a period of probation and should include a period of executed incarceration,” it says.

Oldham’s attorney, Thomas Degonia, submitted to the court more than a dozen letters and statements by colleagues and activists recognizing and praising Oldham’s long career as an advocate for people with AIDS and AIDS prevention and treatment policies.

One of the letter writers was A. Cornelius Baker, a longtime AIDS and LGBT rights advocate who served as NAPWA’s policy director and executive director from 1992 to 2000.

“His efforts have resulted in comfort for those who were dying, policies and programs to bring longer life to people living with HIV, and critical policy decisions to prevent new HIV infections,” Baker states in his letter.

“I hope that the court will recognize Frank’s life of good work and recognize that he has already carried the burden of the incidents involved in NAPWA’s final days,” Baker wrote. “Justice would not be served by any further punishment in this case and it would only serve to cause more harm to Frank and those who have benefited from his work.”

During the sentencing hearing two former NAPWA board members and friends of Oldham, Judy Billings and Thomas Petty, testified on Oldham’s behalf, urging the judge to limit his sentence to probation rather than incarceration.

A third former NAPWA board member, Bruce Hoffmeister, testified as a victim’s advocate, saying he represented the NAPWA board and the organization’s supporters who he said were wronged by Oldham’s actions. He called on Salant to sentence Oldham to some period of incarceration.

The sentencing came seven months after a grand jury handed down a six-count indictment against Oldham, accusing him of stealing between $10,000 and $100,000 from NAPWA in November 2012.

Oldham served as executive director of NAPWA from January 2006 to November 2012, when he resigned following unconfirmed reports that thousands of dollars of the organization’s funds were missing or unaccounted for.

Degonia, Oldham’s attorney, points out that the plea agreement offered by prosecutors doesn’t present evidence that Oldham misappropriated funds over and above the $11,238 that Oldham admitted taking by using a NAPWA credit card for personal use.

He said Oldham is remorseful for his illegal actions but notes that they occurred, 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.

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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