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For years, the Catholic brother in charge of a Kansas City home for developmentally disabled men had embezzled his way to a fortune. When the board of directors found out, its cover-up – with the help of The Kansas City Star – was as bold as the theft.
This is a story of how a Catholic brother embezzled up to $500,000 or more from the Community of the Good Shepherd, was eventually caught red-handed and then allowed to go scot free; a story the silk-stocking Board of Directors of the Community of the Good Shepherd covered up for more than two years through stonewalling, arrogance and threats of reprisal; a story The Kansas City Star had dropped in its lap, assigned a reporter to and then would not publish. It is a story of a crime that would have gone unpunished if not for the dogged determination of one person whom the Good Shepherd Board could not shut up: Richard Bowman.
Good Shepherd is a private, charitable organization located on James A. Reed Road in Kansas City that provides comprehensive care and housing for 30 developmentally disabled men ranging in age from their early 20s to their late 60s. It is licensed by the State of Missouri's Department of Mental Health which has placed 22 of the current residents there; the other eight are private placements. Richard Bowman's younger brother, Mike, who is 37, is one of the residents and has been since he was l6. Mike has Downs Syndrome and is severely autistic. He has no speech and no fine motor skills – his disability is total.
Mike is one of the reasons the Good Shepherd Manor came into existence.
In 1965, seven Catholic Kansas City families, including Mike's mother and father, began working together to develop a local facility to provide care for their own developmentally disabled children who were growing into young men and now needing round-the-clock, specialized care the parents could no longer provide at home.
These parents formed a group called "Friends of the Handicapped" and took their cause to the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The diocese was receptive and told the group if it could provide staffing, the diocese would work to find a facility.
After months of looking, one of the parents saw an article in Life Magazine about The Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd, a Catholic religious order specializing in caring for mentally retarded men. The order was headquartered in Albuquerque, N.M. and it ran care facilities there and in Momence, Ill. The Friends contacted Brother Mathias Barrett, who had founded the order in 1951 and who ran the Momence operation. He agreed to provide staff for a Kansas City facility providing the Friends could raise the money to pay for a facility and for staffing it. The Friends formed the Good Shepherd Guild to raise the money, the diocese sold the group its then closed Queen of the World Hospital on East 23rd Street near Benton Boulevard, and in l967 the Good Shepherd Manor opened for business.
From the beginning, the stewardship provided by the Little Brothers was shaky, particularly in the financial area. According to Velma Bowman, Richard and Mike's mother, the first brother sent down to run the Manor lasted only a few months due to questionable financial management; another brother, who worked there several years, used Manor funds to fly his family from Ireland to Kansas City for a visit and a side trip to Las Vegas. Bowman said this brother took the Manor's bookkeeper on the trip to Vegas as well, and the bookkeeper later reported that the brother doled out Manor funds to bankroll each family member's gambling stake. When this brother left in 1984, saying he had a hole in his heart and was going to die, the Manor was broke.
Brother Raphael was the next to arrive. He asked Richard Bowman to form a second fundraising arm to get the Manor back on its feet. The Good Shepherd Guild Too was formed and the Manor survived. Raphael was transferred two years later and the next brother sent down from Momence was there only a few months before running off to marry one of the Manor's aides. He was replaced by Brother Savio who concluded what Bowman characterizes as "a year-long reign of intimidation of the residents" by driving off in the Manor's new van and with its only computer. The next brother sent down to run the Manor had a chronic drinking problem and lasted only a couple of months before being replaced in 1987 by Brother Francis de Sales, a con man extraordinaire.
Except for an ill-fitting hairpiece, de Sales, who is in his late 30s, is nondescript. More of an ingratiator than a charmer, de Sales' speech "dripped with sentimentality and religiousosity." Bowman recalls how de Sales would refer to the residents as "my sheep" as in "They are my sheep and I am their good shepherd." Carolyn Sawyer, a long-time volunteer who worked in the office once a week, said "Brother Francis either hates you or likes you. What he basically does is befriend you for a purpose. If you don't have a purpose, he won't befriend you."
De Sales actually had very little to do with tending to the residents. He was an administrator and a planner. He left the bulk of the care to Daniel Bombardier, a younger man still in the process of becoming a brother. From all accounts, Bombardier exhibited regard for the residents and took charge of the staff of caregivers, greatly relieving the concerns of the families and friends of the Manor. The combination of de Sales' organizational skills and Bombardier's dedication provided a stability to the Manor it had not often had. It also provided de Sales the cover he needed to fleece the Manor.
A shift in how best to care for the developmentally disabled occurred in the 1980s: Treating the residents in institutional, inner-city settings such as the East 23rd Street site where Good Shepherd Manor was located was out and placing the residents in smaller group-home clusters in suburban, neighborhood settings was in. The Little Brothers endorsed this concept and de Sales went to work to implement it.
In 1990, de Sales unveiled his master plan for moving Good Shepherd from its inner-city location to four houses he would get built with a $1.84 million mortgage loan guarantee from HUD. Two of the houses would be located at 101st and James A Reed Road, and two others about a mile away at 107th and Greenwood. At a Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd Council meeting in Canada, de Sales presented the layouts and won the enthusiastic endorsement of his religious order to proceed. "He had brochures done, he had the layouts. We were impressed," said Brother Majella Marchant, secretary general of The Little Brothers. "We endorsed the project and told him to pursue it."
The Good Shepherd Board also agreed to the plan. De Sales then requested that the guild Bowman had started a few years ago withdraw all of its funds and contribute them as a down payment on the land. In a ceremony not long after that, Donna Bapson, president of Good Shepherd Guild Too, presented a check for $90,000 to de Sales.
On a roll now, de Sales enticed the Knights of Columbus to contribute $75,000 to help build a combination administration/recreation building to house his offices and provide a social center for the residents. It would be called Columbus Hall.
De Sales' last piece of the puzzle also fell into place when he won approval from the Good Shepherd Board to have a large, four-bedroom, well-furnished residence built for the brothers. (The Good Shepherd staff referred to it as "The White House." According to Bowman, de Sales would not permit any of the family members, guardians, staff or residents to visit the residence.)
Later that year, in November, with all his relocation plans in progress, de Sales dropped a bombshell on the Good Shepherd Board: His religious order was going to quit staffing Good Shepherd. He had a solution, though. He and his assistant, Bombardier, will leave the order, start their own order and remain on. The Good Shepherd Board, now consisting of several Catholic laymen appointed by then Bishop John J. Sullivan, endorsed this plan without even checking with the hierarchy of The Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd in Albuquerque. The board then voted to oust the order and take title to the Queen of the World property away from the Little Brothers and put it in the name of the new corporate entity de Sales had concocted called The Community of the Good Shepherd.
"We didn't even know we'd been tossed out," said Brother Majella Marchant, "until I got a call from Brother Francis saying he and Brother Daniel had been asked to leave because the board had taken over the facility." Marchant immediately called the superior general of the order, Brother Justine Howsom, who was in Europe at the time. Howsom said he would drop everything and meet Marchant in Kansas City the next day. Marchant then called Ken Mellard, one of the board members, but "Mr. Mellard didn't want me to come to Kansas City. I left on the next plane.
"First we went to see Bishop Sullivan and told him Brother Francis had misrepresented us. We had no intentions of not staffing Kansas City. It was a house founded by our founder, Brother Mathias."
Sullivan was sympathetic, Marchant said, but told them he could not intervene.
They went to see Mellard and also Father Norman Rotert, then the bishop's vicar general. "We told them both that Francis had misrepresented the congregation and that the board's taking Good Shepherd away from us was a simple case of alienation of property." Despite de Sales' blatant misrepresentations, Marchant said both Mellard and Rotert were "champions of his. They both fully supported what he had done."
These meetings made it clear to Marchant and Howsom that de Sales had "villanized them" and that the only way their congregation would be reinstated as the title holders of Good Shepherd Manor would be through legal action. "We could have taken a legal stand and won our property back, but we didn't want to disturb the stability of the Manor or cause trouble for the wonderful families there with a lot of legal wrangling," Marchant said.
Before leaving town, Howsom scolded de Sales and advised him he would be hearing from the order. But de Sales struck first, sending Howsom a letter requesting dispensation from his vows.
Marchant still is not sure what made de Sales betray his own religious order; his best guess is that de Sales did so in retaliation for the order not granting de Sales' assistant, Bombardier, his final vows when he applied for them in September 1990. "Daniel had requested final vows, but his request was delayed. We said 'take another year to discern if professing final vows was the proper thing for you to do.' This infuriated Brother Francis."
Another possibility is that de Sales thought the order was planning to send him back to school for further training, thus interrupting the great scam opportunities he had set up for himself in administering Good Shepherd. Over the last two years, the order had been recalling a number of its brothers who lacked proper credentials for the work they were doing, and having them go to school. De Sales fit the profile of the brothers being recalled because he did not have a college degree.
In 1991 Good Shepherd Manor was closed and the Community of the Good Shepherd, backed by almost $2 million in HUD guaranteed loans, opened for business.
It was also that year when de Sales decided it was time to replace the Manor's long-time bookkeeper, Gladys Sutton. He hired Linda Latimer in her place.
"I started thinking things were off in the first month I started handling the petty cash," Latimer said. "On an almost daily basis there was money missing from the petty-cash accounts. We had two of them and we had $600 in each. One account was for the residents and one for the corporation. Easily, $100 a day would be missing."
Early on, Latimer said she asked de Sales about the discrepancies in the petty-cash accounts. "When I would notice the money in the petty cash was not quite right, he would tell me he would write out a receipt later but never did."
Latimer said that Sutton told her how she had reconciled the petty cash. "By her tone of voice, not her words, I could tell she didn't believe the money had been spent on the men."
When de Sales went shopping for the residents, Latimer said, "he would buy things the men never got." De Sales had a particular fondness for fragrances and clothes.
Latimer said she eventually began refusing to reimburse de Sales for the cash receipts he submitted because she knew the residents were not getting the items he claimed to have purchased for them. "I just stopped paying them and he said nothing."
This stifled de Sales for a short period, but when Latimer went on maternity leave, de Sales "took over paying the bills and writing the checks. And he kept writing the checks after I came back. He wrote checks back to himself for the cash tickets and everything else. He kept the checkbook locked up in his desk. At the end of the month, he would give me all the paid receipts and the check stubs. Everything balanced out but it was what we were paying him for that was not legitimate. If he would reimburse himself for $1,500, he would have receipts. For example, he would supposedly take five different men out to lunch. Each day he reported taking a different resident to lunch and I knew he hadn't. He hadn't taken any of them out."
Latimer said that while she was on maternity leave for l0 weeks, "almost $4,000 was missing from the two petty-cash accounts." Multiply that rate of theft over the more than seven years de Sales was in charge of Good Shepherd, factor in the many bogus reimbursement payments he made to himself and the magnitude of the organization's loss in these forms of embezzlement begins to emerge.
Embezzlers are seldom content with one or two methods of thievery. They are essentially opportunistic and their greed can be unsatiable.
Another method Latimer believes de Sales used was depositing donor checks in his own account. "I knew I was not getting all the donation checks," she said. "One donor called in and asked me if I had gotten her regular monthly check. When I looked into it I found I hadn't had a check from her in years, since 1989 or so. There was another donor who called about his organization's yearly donation. He wanted to know if he could drop it in the mail. This was September of 1993 and by the time I left in November it still had never showed up. The two checks in the previous years from this organization had been $10,000 each." These checks, Latimer said, "were from the Consentino grocery people in connection with an annual golf tournament put on for the benefit of Good Shepherd."
How did de Sales divert donor funds?
"Brother Francis' personal account also had the name 'Good Shepherd' in it--'Brothers of the Good Shepherd' was his personal account," Latimer said. "The other account, the official account, was called 'Community of the Good Shepherd.' As long as the check was made out in any way to 'Good Shepherd,' he was able to deposit it in his personal account. The same bank, United Missouri Bank, had both accounts."
The IRS requires that private, charitable organizations such as Good Shepherd be audited annually. The local accounting firm of Donnelly Meiners audited Good Shepherd's books starting in the mid-1980s up until 1993, according to Dave Enenback, the audit partner at Donnelly Meiners in charge of the Good Shepherd account. Asked if any of his firm's audits revealed any misappropriations of funds, Enenback said he could not comment because of client confidentiality. The fiscal year at Good Shepherd ends September 30 each year. For the 1993 annual audit, another auditing company replaced Donnelly Meiners. "The third year I was there (1993), we had a couple of really good auditors from the new auditing company," Latimer said.
Part of the auditing process involves the auditing company sending "confirmation letters" to the organization's donors to confirm independently that the amount the donor contributed is the same amount reflected on the organization's books. To preserve the integrity of these responses, and ensure these letters are not tampered with by the organization being audited, it is paramount the auditor do both the mailing and receiving of these letters.
"For the third year in a row, Brother Francis mailed out the letters himself, saying to the auditors, 'Oh, I forgot and mailed them out myself,' Latimer said. "After the new auditors found out Brother Francis had sent the letters out himself, they went to an alternative procedure and sent out a second batch of confirmation letters. When the first batch came back, all was in order and agreement. When the letters the auditors sent out came back, there were at least two discrepancies." Latimer said the auditors also found in comparing the two sets of confirmation letters "that six or more of the signatures on the donor letters were in conflict. They saw that Brother Francis had forged the signatures on some of the donor letters."
The auditors, according to Latimer, took their findings in October of 1993 to "Ken Woodward, the treasurer of the board and chairman of the board's finance committee and to Ken Mellard, president of the board at the time."
Latimer thought for sure this report from the auditors would bring de Sales down. She waited to hear the thud. "I never heard anything about it after that," she said. "It was business as usual. When I saw there wasn't going to be anything done, I quit the next month. When I had my exit interview with Ken Woodward, I told him all about the discrepancies I had seen and the auditors had seen. I found out later they had just passed me off as a disgruntled employee, just as they had the bookkeeper before me."
Red flags about de Sales went up long before the auditors and Linda Latimer blew the whistle on him in late 1993. It was no secret de Sales and Bombardier were no longer a part of a religious order, but that each continued to wear the clerical garb of the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd. Richard Bowman remembers a meeting he had at St. Elizabeth's parish on a fall Saturday afternoon in 199l with Father Richard Carney, who was then both pastor of St. Elizabeth's and vicar general, the second ranking clergyman in the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. "We got to talking about Good Shepherd, and Carney expressed how concerned he was about the situation at the Community of the Good Shepherd because the brothers there were no longer brothers but were being insured as brothers and he worried that this put the diocese at some legal liability and vulnerability."
Over time, Bowman grew uneasy about de Sales. One of the members of the Good Shepherd Board, Father Patrick Rush, was one of Bowman's closest friends. They had met as high-school freshmen at St. John's Preparatory Seminary in 1958 and had both graduated in 1966 from Conception Seminary College in northwest Missouri. Bowman felt there was nothing the two of them could not talk about, and went to tell his old friend some of the misgivings he was developing about de Sales.
"I went to see Pat in 1992 when he was pastor of the Cathedral, and I told him I thought Francis was a thief and a liar," Bowman said. "Pat asked me if I had anything to support this feeling and I said I didn't other than that Francis had a habit of firing anyone on the staff who asked him for financial information – such as when Kathy Wise, in 1990 or '91, was working to find grant money and she needed to provide financial information to the foundations she was applying to. She never got it, but was fired. Gladys Sutton, a long-time bookkeeper, was fired in 1991 without any reason given."
Over the course of the next year, Bowman said he told Rush "three or four more times I thought de Sales was a liar and a thief."
In May of 1993, Bowman gave Rush a copy of a "confidential" letter dated Aug. 3, 1992, written by de Sales to solicit funds for himself from the parents and guardians of the residents of Good Shepherd. In this letter, de Sales stated he had cancer "again"; his insurance coverage had been canceled, and he had "an outstanding bill of $17,500 still to be paid." Although he conceded he lived in what he calls "a very nice house," he pointed out "A house, I might add, that we do not own, but rather, which belongs to the Board of Directors."
Not only was he uninsured, broke and in debt, de Sales' letter said, but "It looks like I will need another hospitalization in October for a procedure my doctor tells me 'will help.'"
His letter said he "is not asking for a long-term commitment...I ask a one or two time gift." He then threw in the clincher: "Should you not be able to, I fully understand, and will hold no ill will at all towards you for this." (A number of the parents and guardians, including Richard Bowman, who said he feared his brother's care would deteriorate if he did not respond affirmatively to this appeal, began sending de Sales checks each month. Bowman sent $75 a month, his mother $50.)
Bowman said Rush was unaware of the letter and was taken back by it. Bowman was then invited to a luncheon meeting at Michael Forbes Restaurant with Rush and Ken Mellard, the president of the Good Shepherd Board. "Over my tenderloin medallions, I gave them copies of the letter and I told Mellard about all the people being fired and how weird Francis acted – how secretive he was."
To his dismay, Bowman said, there was no immediate follow-up from either Rush or Mellard; when he periodically asked them about de Sales, "they would just say they were looking into it."
Although de Sales by no means perpetrated the perfect crime, in stealing from Good Shepherd he almost stole from the perfect place. The Good Shepherd Board of Directors not only refused to press charges against him for his repeated and prolonged thefts, but it inexplicably allowed him to keep working and stealing for over a year after the board's own auditors and bookkeeper made de Sales' thefts known to it. When the board finally did force de Sales out, it pretended he was resigning for health reasons.
Ten months passed, Bowman said, before Rush told him in a March 1994 meeting in Rush's private quarters at the Cathedral that Rush and the Good Shepherd Board now knew that "Francis has in fact been stealing." Bowman said he asked Rush what would happen "and Pat said he didn't know."
The Cover-Up Begins
On March 28, a week or so after this meeting, de Sales issued a letter of resignation addressed to the parents and guardians of the residents. It began, "Effective today, I am resigning from my positions at The Community of the Good Shepherd, due to increasing health problems."
Now also began – according to Bowman, a number of other members of the families involved, and members of Good Shepherd's two guilds – a concerted cover-up by the Good Shepherd Board to conceal de Sales' wholesale fleecing of Good Shepherd.
Instead of forcing de Sales to leave Good Shepherd immediately, the board allowed him to remain in residence for another couple of weeks.
Carolyn Sawyer, a long-time volunteer at Good Shepherd, and her husband, Allen, brought de Sales dinner two nights before he was to leave for Florida. De Sales told them how horribly and unfairly the board had treated him; he spoke to them of committing suicide because he was so sick and destitute. He said all he had to his name was in two cardboard boxes.
The next morning, a Friday, Allen Sawyer, while driving on I-470, was surprised to see a moving van and a red sports car parked in front of the brothers' residence.
"As he did prepare to leave," Bowman said, "he had a moving van parked in front of the brothers' residence for two days while he loaded every stick of furniture, the silverware and most of the household effects – all belonging to Good Shepherd not to him – into the van. Further, the board allowed a Good Shepherd staff member to drive the van to Florida. De Sales couldn't drive it because he was behind the wheel of a new, red Toyota Celica he had recently purchased and put in his mother's name."
Carolyn Sawyer was so concerned about what de Sales had told her husband and herself that on the following Monday, she and fellow HUD board member Kathleen Mandina, went to see Mellard at his office at PRG Inc. where Mellard is president. They told him they were there to intercede on behalf of de Sales. Mellard then informed them that de Sales "is a pathological liar" and that he had been terminated for stealing. At first, both women were dumbfounded, but as they listened to what Mellard was telling them, Sawyer said, "It made sense."
Mellard also informed the women that the board had arranged to pay de Sales a stipend to take care of some of his medical expenses. (Bowman was informed later by two of de Sales' top staff people that de Sales never had cancer, and that the only surgery he had undergone was elective – liposuction to remove flesh from his stomach area.)
While de Sales was en route to Jacksonville, Fla., Mellard sent a letter dated April l3, 1994, to the "Dear Friends of the Community of the Good Shepherd." As you read what he wrote, reflect for a moment on all he, Rush, Woodward and the rest of the board, which included two lawyers (Robert Donnellan of Watson, Ess, Marshall & Engg and Michael P. White of Polsinelli, White, Vardeman & Shalton) knew about de Sales:
I am writing to inform you that as a result of increasing health problems, the Board of Directors has accepted Brother Francis deSales' resignation from his position as Executive Director of the Community of the Good Shepherd. As you know, Brother Francis has been an integral part of the growth and development of Good Shepherd. He will be missed by the residents, their families, the staff, and all others who have come to know him in his role with the men of the Community of the Good Shepherd...
As the Community of the Good Shepherd moves into a new chapter in its life, I ask for your continued support and prayers for its future, and the futures of its residents. Additionally, I ask for your prayers for Brother Francis. The Board of Directors remains extremely confident in the future of the Community of the Good Shepherd. The residents continue to do well, and Good Shepherd continues to be the recipient of very generous support from our community at large.
President, Board of Directors
De Sales may have left, but he was not through with his bilking of the families and friends of Good Shepherd.
"Francis called right after he got down to Florida, saying he didn't have any money for cigarettes and had to put a sheet up to cover his part of the room to get some privacy," Carolyn Sawyer said. "He said he was too sick to work and asked me to do a fundraiser to raise money for his cancer treatment. He said it would be best if I opened a bank account in my name, deposit the money and send him a check for the money I had raised." As Sawyer listened to this plea, she did not let de Sales know she knew he was a thief and a liar. Instead she went to inform Kathy Newham, the program director at Good Shepherd who was now also functioning as its interim director. Sawyer knew "Francis would be preying upon other ladies in the guild and urged that a clarification letter be written to all concerned so that everyone still sending him money would know to stop."
Newham went to Mellard, Sawyer said, and she reported back to me that Mellard had told her, "We are working on a letter."
"It took a month or six weeks for the letter and then it was so vague people didn't know what had really happened and that Brother Francis was a thief," Sawyer said. "It's been almost two years and we still don't know what really happened."
The letter Mellard promised was a masterpiece of obsfucation and indirectness. It was dated June 23, 1994 – more than a year after Bowman had shown Rush and Mellard proof that de Sales was conducting private solicitations to benefit himself; eight months after the auditors had reported substantive discrepancies in de Sales' handling of the organization's funds, and three months after the board had forced de Sales to resign.
Despite the board's clear and present fiduciary responsibility to make a straightforward declaration about de Sales to all concerned, it would not be until the second page of Mellard's letter that the first hint of the enormous embezzlement Good Shepherd had sustained under de Sales even got hinted at: "As a part of the transition in administration, several reviews of past activities have been undertaken. The board has undertaken an audit of The Community of the Good Shepherd's business accounts. At the same time, based upon information we were able to share with the Missouri Department of Health and Mental Retardation, that agency has begun its own separate audit of the business accounts. Preliminarily, it appears that certain funds were not handled in what I should describe as an appropriate manner (italics added). We expect, however that the available insurance coverage, combined with the funds which were immediately recovered upon the discovery of the inappropriate handling, will keep the actual loss to The Community of the Good Shepherd to a minimum. Of course, if it is found that client's funds have been misappropriated, full restitution will be made."
The letter went on to promise a full disclosure (which never occurred): "But, once we have established all of the facts through our independent means, we will then be able to share with you more specific information."
Mellard also asked, without referring to de Sales anywhere in the letter, "for your assistance in reporting to me any incident in which you are contacted in connection with a solicitation for funds by anyone who is not now directly associated with The Community of the Good Shepherd."
Mellard's letter greatly alarmed many of the parents, guardians and guild members of Good Shepherd. Many of them wanted to know exactly what he was talking about, how big the loss was, and whether the care of the residents would be affected. However, no information was forthcoming until February 1995, when Michael P. White, who was next in line to become president of the Good Shepherd Board, held a meeting attended by about 20 family members of the residents. (Michael P. White is employed by the law firm of Polsinelli and White in which Michael T. White, the former Jackson County executive, is a named partner. The Whites are not related. "Fuzzy White is what Mike White goes by," Bowman said. "He's very disarming. He's bald and likes to rub his head and call himself 'Fuzzy.'")
At this meeting, for the first time, the size of the actual loss incurred by Good Shepherd was estimated to the families. White put it at $250,000.
"The families are stunned," Bowman said. "The families asked what had happened and White would not answer, saying we are not going to go into that now. White says some general things about 'Let's focus now on the future' and proceeds on to other agenda items."
White conducted another meeting on March 11. Once again, he was the lone board member present. Bowman said seven families were represented. "There are no minutes from any of these board/family meetings," Bowman said, but he took his own notes. "My notes show that Rita Ross (a sister of one of the residents) had been selected for the board, and a management-consulting agreement the board had signed after Francis had left would expire in 60 days." (The management agreement was made with Lakemary, a facility for developmentally disabled men and women located in Paola, Kan. Lakemary is run by Bill Craig, a friend of board member Rush.)
At this meeting, White was asked why the board does not "go after Francis for the money." White answered, "because Francis is destitute and does not have a thing left." When the families ask how this could be if he had stolen $250,000, White, according to Bowman, "said nothing and went on to another subject."
Feeling stonewalled, Bowman sent a certified letter dated April 11, 1995, to Mellard and a copy to White, the president in waiting, suggesting open board meetings; full financial disclosure and accountability; and involving the families in decision-making. The letter ended with Bowman's requesting a timely response to the suggestions he had made as well as an immediate and open meeting with the board. "If you are unable to respond to these issues please let me know so I can secure the information through the appropriate federal and state funding agencies."
A week later, Mellard's letter to Bowman answered none of the substantive issues Bowman had raised, but it promised that "several selected members of the board" would be available soon to meet and discuss issues with him and other interested parties.
Mellard and White followed up that letter with one dated May 2 to the families and friends of Good Shepherd, saying if there were any issues they wanted raised about Good Shepherd they should do so at a meeting to be held on May 13.
Rita Ross, the sister of one of the residents, had been appointed to the Good Shepherd Board in time for the March 13 board meeting. A certified public accountant herself, she was determined to get to the bottom of the embezzlement and not just be on the board so the board could appease the families and friends clamoring for more family representation on the board. (Of the other seven board members, only White was a family member of one of the residents.)
"As a board member, I had access to information. I just went to the office and got the information" Ross said. In particular, she wanted to read the minutes from all the past board meetings. "Mike White put a stop to me getting information...He took the old board minutes away from me."
Cut off from information there by White's edict, Ross made calls to the Department of Mental Health and to HUD. She informed HUD that when the Good Shepherd Board had terminated de Sales back in March, it had also terminated the HUD Board that had been formed in late 1991 when HUD had granted Good Shepherd a loan guarantee. (HUD regulations require that non-profit charitable organizations such as Good Shepherd maintain two separate boards, one to supervise the fund-raising component of the organization and the other, a HUD Board, to oversee the actual day-to-day operations of the organization to ensure that the organization meets its fiscal requirements and is able to service the mortgage payments guaranteed by the HUD loan.)
Although the Good Shepherd Board's bylaws allow it to determine who will serve on the HUD Board, it is a HUD requirement that its board be independent of the Good Shepherd Board.
"I confronted HUD about this," Ross said. "They (HUD officials) passed me from one lawyer to another lawyer. One HUD lawyer finally told me they (the Good Shepherd Board) could not disband the HUD Board."
The HUD Board comprised a few family members and guild supporters selected by de Sales, who served as its president. Carolyn Sawyer, one of the HUD Board members, said after de Sales left, "Mellard verbally told the HUD Board members that our board was not a legal board and it would be in our best interest, because of the possibility of liability in this embezzlement, that the whole HUD Board be dissolved."
At the next board meeting on April 27, Ross came prepared to get answers to her questions. For openers, she wanted to know why the HUD Board had been terminated in violation of HUD regulations; how much, exactly, de Sales had stolen; the status of the insurance claim filed to recover the loss; and why she had not been involved – as the board had promised – in its search for a new executive director.
Ross' questions evoked a number of responses but no answers.
"Donnellen (the board's attorney) was verbally abusive to me," she said. "Ken Mellard was condescending to me. Donnellen made a motion to remove me from the board. Pat Rush told me that if I persisted in asking these types of questions it could cause the bishop to reconsider Rush's presence on the board and this could jeopardize our connection to the Catholic Church and to funding. I think he wanted the thing to be buried and not brought up any more."
Duly insulted, Ross rose to leave the meeting. "Before I could get to the door, I heard Donnellen ask for a unanimous vote to expel me from the board."
Asked why Ross was no longer on the board, Rush, who has subsequently become vice president of the board, said, "Rita voluntarily resigned and we accepted."
Piqued but good now, Ross wrote a letter to Donnellen informing him she would be going to Legal Aid to have a suit filed against the board. Ross said Donnellen called her and said "he had been president of the board of Legal Aid for many years and they wouldn't go along with that. He just went off and got belligerent."
The long-awaited May 13 meeting White had set up to answer the questions the families and friends of Good Shepherd wanted answered finally rolled around. Bowman, his mother arrived 20 minutes early to find the door to the meeting room locked and White waiting outside.
"Since White had asked for questions in his letter, I handed him seven pages of typed questions, 52 in total," Bowman said. "White took the papers, wrinkled them up, jammed them into his briefcase, didn't say a thing, walked l0 feet away and stood silently by himself for 20 minutes until the door was unlocked."
About 50 family members and friends were present. So were two representatives from the Department of Mental Health. Four board members attended – White, Woodward, Rush and Richard Henry, a vice president of Prudential Summerson Burrow.
"White is in charge," Bowman said. "He opens the meeting and I raise my hand and say 'I'm sorry to interrupt, but I want to pass out copies of my questions to the rest of the people present. I said I hoped he would answer the questions at the meeting.'"
As the people were reading Bowman's questions, Rosemary Kilker, a guardian of one of the residents, asked White why the families could not see the board's bylaws.
"White says he'll get them to us," Bowman said. "Except to me, he never does send them out to the people at the meeting, not to this day."
Other people started asking some of the questions on Bowman's sheets.
"A number of parents and guardians started asking questions," Bowman said. "They want to know why the money de Sales had stolen has not been recovered from him. White said de Sales "is destitute."
When Woodward, the treasurer of the board, got up to answer questions about the finances, Bowman asked him "exactly how much was stolen."
"Two-hundred-and-fifty thousand dollars," Woodward answered. (This is the exact amount White had said Good Shepherd was insured for.)
Many more financial and operating questions were posed by a number of family members and friends as the meeting wore on for 90 minutes. Under questioning, the board revealed it was able to recoup some of the money de Sales had placed in various bank accounts, but did not reveal how much or provide any supporting financial documentation about any of the organization's financial matters. "The board has never shown us any documentation of anything having to do with this theft," Bowman said.
Cops in While The Kansas City Star Cops Out
On June 30 Bowman, discouraged to the core by the board's concerted efforts to keep the embezzlement covered up, went to the U.S. Attorney General's local office and told Linda Parker, a criminal duty officer, about the embezzlement and its cover-up by the board. Parker referred the case to Tony Campbell, an investigator with the federal government's Housing and Human Services in St. Louis.
Campbell called Bowman on July 3, reviewed the case with him, took the names and numbers of a number of people familiar with the case. Campbell called Rita Ross on July 5 and told her he was going to have an FBI investigator get in touch with her.
When Bowman did not hear back from Campbell, he called him on July 24. "Campbell said that we have some 'big names' involved in this and we are going to have to go slowly and quietly," Bowman said.
Vance Latimer, a long-time Good Shepherd guild member (no relation to former Good Shepherd bookkeeper Linda Latimer), called The Kansas City Star in early July. Reporter Matt Ebnet returned Latimer's call. Ebnet listened to Latimer's story, and then told him he wanted to look into it.
Over the period of the next month, Ebnet would tell Bowman and Latimer later, he contacted more than 50 sources in researching the story. Latimer, however, did not hear back from Ebnet during that time.
"When the Star didn't act, I went to a bunch of government offices: to (U.S. Rep.) Karen McCarthy's office, to (U.S. Sen. John) Ashcroft and (U.S. Sen. Kit) Bond's offices, to (Jackson County Prosecutor) Claire McCaskill's office where I talked to an assistant prosecuting attorney. Her name is C. J. Reig. She called a detective at the police department and when she told him Rick (Richard Bowman) had already contacted the U.S. Attorney General's office the detective said the police department couldn't do anything if there was a parallel investigation going on," Latimer said.
Ebnet restored contact with Latimer in early August by pulling together a meeting of Latimer, Bowman, Rita Ross and John Sanguine, a friend of Ross'. The meeting began at 4 p.m. on August 9 at Denny's on 1600 Broadway; it lasted until 6:45 p.m.
"We left very few stones unturned," Bowman said. "Matt (Ebnet) said if we could document our allegations he thought the Star would print the story. We gave Matt documentation. He was eager and wanted to go with it."
A Star photographer was assigned to the story. He arranged to take pictures of Bowman and Ross at Bowman's home. The pictures showed the two "going over documentation," Bowman said. "He (the photographer) said they wanted to use the photographs when they ran the story."
The day after the meeting at Denny's, Ebnet called Ross and told her he was trying to make a deadline, "that he hoped to have the story about the theft and cover-up in the paper this Sunday (Oct. 13)," Ross said. Ebnet also talked with former Good Shepherd bookkeeper Linda Latimer, one of more than 50 sources Ebnet had told Bowman and Ross he had contacted. "When I talked with him the story was going to be in that Sunday's Star," Latimer said. "Then the reporter told me he had had a meeting with the attorney for the Good Shepherd, Mike White. 'One way or another,' the reporter said, 'this story was going to be in the Sunday Star.' I never heard again from the reporter and nothing has ever been in the Star."
The story did not run on August l3. The next day, Ebnet called Bowman at his home at about 10:45 p.m. and said he "didn't have a story without Kathy Newham," the interim executive director at Good Shepherd, and he asked Bowman's help in getting Newham to talk with him. He also told Bowman about some information of the theft he had learned from seeing a state audit.
At another meeting in August, this one at Bowman's home, Ebnet told Bowman and Vance Latimer that he would "guarantee the story was going to run and he would quit if the story got squashed. Ebnet told them the story would run the following Sunday, October 20. When it did not run then, Ebnet told them it was "being held to run in two parts over the Labor Day weekend." He said the first installment would appear on Sunday and the second on Labor Day.
"Matt (Ebnet) kept telling us it was going to be in, it was going to be in," Carolyn Sawyer said. "He would say they didn't have the space. Another week or two would go by and he would say his editor was still checking into it. The final thing he said is, 'I can't tell you anything. I don't know what the status of the story is.'"
As Ebnet's story kept not getting published, Vance Latimer, who had made the initial contact with the Star, told Ebnet he was now going to take the story to the New Times, an alternative newspaper where this writer was editor at the time. Ebnet asked Latimer not to do that.
Ross told Ebnet that he "was missing the big story here. These big businessmen (on the Good Shepherd Board) wouldn't be fighting so hard to muzzle it if there weren't more involved than you (Ebnet) knew." (Ebnet has since been "promoted" to one of the paper's suburban offices.)
The audit Ebnet had mentioned to Bowman was conducted by the State Department of Mental Health in October 1994. It covered the period Jan. 1, 1993 through the termination of de Sales' employment at the end of March 1994. Only the accounts of the 22 developmentally disabled men the Department of Health had placed in Good Shepherd were audited. The audit uncovered $19,958 in misappropriated funds; it also confirmed precisely what bookkeeper Linda Latimer had told board treasurer Woodward 12 months earlier about how de Sales had been embezzling from residents' accounts.
The report summarized the losses into six categories: no receipts, inappropriate transactions, receipts lacking detail, chaperone's expense, physical inventory and other questionable transactions. Some of the more notable items charged to residents' accounts were itemized: opposite-gender clothing, $554; meals, $1,181; books, $387; cologne, $955; designer clothing, $50 or more; a leather coat, $250; and a pair of shoes for $105 that had been charged to three residents' accounts at $35 each.
The audit report recommended that the Good Shepherd "Board of Directors ensure that funds used inappropriately are returned..."
Bob Baumeister, the regional director of the State Department of Mental Health, said the board has now paid back all the missing funds. When asked why his department had not brought charges against de Sales for these thefts, Baumeister said, "We left that up to the (Good Shepherd) board to make that decision. He (de Sales) was no longer at the agency. I don't know if we can file charges."
Told that both Rita Ross and Richard Bowman had told the News Times that they had received veiled threats of reprisal from board officers Donnellen and Rush about their brothers being removed from Good Shepherd as a result of their pressing the board for an end to its cover up, Baumeister said he "would hope they would not be at risk." Informed that both Tom Ross and Mike Bowman were not placed in Good Shepherd by his department, Baumeister said, "We would work with the parents of not even our clients. We would work with other agencies if this board wanted to shut this place down."
The State Department of Mental Health will not be alone when it opens its audit of Good Shepherd. The FBI and the Office of the Inspector General for both the Department of Health and Human Services and the Social Security Administration already have opened a criminal investigation of the embezzlement at Good Shepherd. This investigation was revealed last Friday by Sen. Ashcroft's office when it forwarded a letter dated October 17 to Vance Latimer from Kathleen F. Steele. Steele is the regional director of the Department of Health & Human Services. Her letter was in response to inquiries both Sens. Ashcroft and Bond had made about the theft at Good Shepherd at the behest of Latimer.
After informing the senators of the criminal investigation, Steele wrote that she could not "release any information at this time, as it might jeopardize the ongoing investigation."
During the two years of the board's concerted effort to cover up the embezzlement, the care provided the residents at Good Shepherd deteriorated sharply. In a memorandum to the board dated June 26, Woodward reported that for the eight months ending May 3l, 1995, Good Shepherd "operated at a deficit of $54,799...It should be noted that contributions for the year to date are running at a projected deficit of more than $58,000."
"They haven't done any fund raising in two years," Ross said. "They haven't had a newsletter...the care has gone to hell. The caregivers get about $6 an hour. They just aren't paying enough to get and keep quality caregivers...I used to go out every week and bring my brother home, but I now I hate to go out there...I don't see how they can stay in business running so poorly."
"In the two years since the money was taken and the board stepped in to run this facility, Mike has been attacked six times by other residents," Bowman said. "Several times in sub-zero temperature he was put on a bus without a jacket for a 90-minute ride to school."
What galls Bowman the most about the board's cover-up is how much it has delayed any of its recoupment. "They need the money restored so care may be restored," he said. "Mike was left in a room for 20 straight hours in his pajamas. The care guy was sleeping in the back at 4 in the afternoon."
Last month, Bowman said, he went out to Good Shepherd about 2:30 p.m. to take his brother out for an ice-cream cone. "I took him to the bathroom first. There were sizable junks of human feces on the floor, in the sink, on the counter, all over the toilets and toilet seats. I went to the next bathroom – same thing, feces everywhere. No toilet paper. I went and got a staff member; she cleaned one and I cleaned the other. When I went back the next morning at 9, it was the same thing – both johns covered with shit. The board is totally immoral about this by not doing the right thing."
Why a Cover-Up?
Why would the board work so hard at trying to bury the embezzlement rather than make a clean chest of it and work cooperatively with the families and friends to restore Good Shepherd?
Theory No. 1: They were trying to protect the diocese from another scandal. In recent years the local diocese has been racked with several pedophilia scandals involving diocesan priest. The diocese had climbed into bed with Fidler when it allowed him to continue to masquerade around in the garb of the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd for over three years after he had renounced his vows and defected from his religious order. Its hands were dirty. Fidler was a fraud, but he was the diocese's fraud, and it didn't want anyone to know it. "When you think of a religious you think of them being on the up-and-up. I just think they don't want it out that a religious has done this," said Duethman. "They don't want the scandal. There's been scandals for 2,000 years and the church is still around. It could survive this minor scandal." Ross said, "The bishop does not want any more scandal."
Theory No. 2: Publicity about an embezzlement chills an organization's fundraising ability. This is the official line put forth by the new executive director of Good Shepherd, Allen Nelson. "I have no idea why the board is so reticent about getting this out. Any kind of scandal written up like that really hurts an organization. It sinks an organization really deeply. Take the United Way scandal. For the first time in years (following a scandal involving a major misappropriation of funds by its top administrator) they get an increase of 1 percent (in fundraising). It just takes forever to recover from things like that." Asked if the board wanted the embezzlement known, White put it more succinctly: "We're not seeking publication of it."
Theory No. 3: The board is too embarrassed. "One of the reasons it (the embezzlement) got scooted under the carpet is that it is too embarrassing for all these prestigious people on the board to admit to such a theft," said Carolyn Sawyer. "This type of loss would hurt their reputations as big businessmen," said Ross.
Theory No. 4: The embezzlement was for far more money than the board has admitted. "It is real suspicious that the amount alleged to have been embezzled ($250,000) is the exact same amount Good Shepherd is covered by its insurance policy from fraud for," said Ross. "I think there is a significant amount of more money missing than they want people to know about. At a recent Good Shepherd Guild meeting, Nelson said the loss was for $350,000. The minutes from that meeting quote Nelson as reporting "It will take maybe two years to reduce it to $250,000." Bowman thinks the embezzlement may be as much or more than $500,000 for two reasons: the audit that caught de Sales was done for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1993, some six years into his administration of Good Shepherd; it is possible de Sales pocketed not only the $90,000 check the Guild Too turned over to him in 199l to buy the land on James A. Reed Road but also other large donor checks received annually from such sources as the annual golf tournaments staged by Keith Connell.
Theory No. 5: The insurance will not cover all or any part of the loss, and board members will be individually liable and possibly subject to law suits. Bowman said while Ross was a board member she checked up on the status of the insurance claim. He said an agent at Christian Brothers Risk, the company insuring Good Shepherd, told her "unofficially" that the theft had occurred over a two-year period, and because it was an on-going thing the board should have been aware of it. The agent said therefore the theft was because of the board's negligence and they were not going to honor the claim. "The insurance claim is almost l8 months old," Ross said. "I don't think they'll pay up...This is like burning your own house down and expecting the insurance company to pay. That's not going to happen."
Theory No. 6: It's not just the embezzlement the board is covering up, it's something else. "I told the reporter from the Star that he was missing the big story, Ross said. "These big businessmen wouldn't be fighting so hard to muzzle a simple embezzlement. Maybe I'm just jaded, but I think it has something to do with the property."
Theory No. 7: The board pressed no charges against de Sales, agreed to pay him a monthly stipend after he left and allowed a staff member to assist de Sales in absconding with all the furniture and effects from the brothers' residence because de Sales knows something the board doesn't want known. A number of things Bowman said in providing background for this story could be advanced. One thing, in particular, he said stands out: In the early-to-mid 1980s when the brother was there who had flown his family over from Ireland at Good Shepherd's expense and treated them all to an expenses-paid side trip to Las Vegas, gambling money included, Good Shepherd was broke when he left. As reported earlier in this article, this caused the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd to send Brother Raphael in as head administrator. His job was to get Good Shepherd back on its economic feet. Raphael went to Bowman to start a second fundraising guild for that purpose. Bowman, who is a management analyst for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, went to the Commerce Bank to find out what would be involved in setting up an endowment for Good Shepherd. A bank official told Bowman $250,000. Bowman said that figure was out of reach for this new guild. The bank official then told him Good Shepherd already had that much money in an account in Commerce Bank at the time. When Raphael looked into this account he found a zero balance. If this is true, it could explain where a great deal of the $300,000 the Good Shepherd Guild raised ended up. It might also explain why then Bishop Sullivan took it upon himself to appoint several prominent Catholic laymen to the board in the late 1980s, and the subsequent unilateral manner in which this board ousted the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd in 199l by taking title to all Good Shepherd property and assets away from the Little Brothers. Donnellen, one of the board members appointed at that time by Sullivan, often liked to tell others that the bishop had called him at home one night and asked him to get on the Good Shepherd Board and "clean up the mess over there."
As to de Sales, his actual name is Douglas Fidler. He lives under that name at 9725 Fawn Brook Circle North, Jacksonville, Fla. 32256. "I'm sure Brother Francis will continue until he is stopped," said Mary Mulvey, the president of the Good Shepherd Guild. "I can't understand why they didn't have him arrested."
PostScript I: Guilty At Last
On March 13, 1997, Douglas K. Fidler, aka Brother Francis de Sales, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Kansas City to one count of mail fraud related to his embezzlement of Good Shepherd.
With about 15 relatives and supporters of Good Shepherd residents present as observers in the courtroom, the nattily attired Fidler, who was known for his arrogance and flamboyant style while he was executive director of Good Shepherd, spoke inaudibly, using nods of his head to waive his right to indictment and a jury trial. Throughout the hour-long hearing, Fidler never made eye contact with any of the observers who sat just a few feet away from him, behind a railing. After the hearing, Fidler avoided all contact with the news media and the observers by sequestering himself in a private room reserved for defendants. He waited more than an hour before venturing downstairs to the lobby. When he saw there was still a handful of those observers waiting there, he went back upstairs until all had left. Not even a photographer from The Kansas City Star chose to wait him out.
Back in November, the court determined that Fidler was indigent and appointed a federal public defender to represent him. As a result, Fidler, 41, was not required to post bail. He was released on a personal recognizance bond pending his sentencing in 60 to 90 days. As a resident of Jacksonville, he will be confined to Florida until summoned back to Kansas City by U.S. District Judge Ortie D. Smith. A plea agreement between Fidler and the federal prosecutor recommended that Fidler serve a sentence of between 30 and 37 months. Judge Smith said he is not bound by that agreement and will consider numerous factors in meting out Fidler's sentence.
How much Fidler actually embezzled is not known. The investigation the FBI, in cooperation with the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, conducted was limited to a 26-month period between February, 1992, and March, 1994. During that time alone, the FBI found that Fidler had absconded with $258,569.35. The FBI only reports losses "provable" in court, not losses it may be aware of but cannot sufficiently substantiate. Research uncovered conducted by this writer revealed that Fidler had been stealing from Good Shepherd at least since 1989 and most probably before that. It would not be unreasonable to assume that he embezzled at least $500,000 and possibly a great deal more. With the limited government investigation concluded, it doesn't appear the actual amount will ever be known. It's for sure the current Good Shepherd Board has no interest in establishing the true amount — it never filed any charges against Fidler.
How could the court, knowing of the enormous amount of money Fidler embezzled, consider him now indigent? A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office, the government entity that prosecuted Fidler, said embezzlers as a group tend to spend not to save. Some embezzlers, of course, squirrel the money away and only tap it after the heat is off.
Fidler, the FBI reported, ran up — and paid off with Good Shepherd funds — $31,977.02 in American Express charges between February 1992 and March 1994. The FBI said these funds paid for vacation trips to Hawaii and Florida for Fidler, his friends and family members. An audit conducted earlier by the Missouri Department of Mental Health showed that Fidler had raided the personal accounts of the residents for $19,958, including spending $955 on perfume and $554 on opposite-gender clothing.
What galled Bowman the most about the board's cover-up was it delayed Good Shepherd's attempts to recoup the money stolen. Fidler did subsequently send almost $59,000 back to Good Shepherd – money he had illegally switched from its bank account to his own. The board has not been able to recoup any of the other funds Fidler embezzled. Good Shepherd's insurance company has refused to reimburse any of the embezzled money.
Following the Fidler debacle, the board, over strenuous objections from parents and guardians, hired Allen Nelson as executive director. Nelson had no previous experience working with developmentally disabled people. He lasted 14 months before being replaced by the home's bookkeeper, Sharon Higney. Extremely high staff turnover has plagued Good Shepherd in recent years.
Bowman and all the other observers at Fidler's pleading hearing were relieved to see this incredible poser finally having to take responsibility for his misdeeds. Now Bowman thinks it's time for the members of the Good Shepherd Board to take responsibility for theirs.
"I think all the board members who were there then and who are still on the board, such as Ken Mellard, Mike White (current board president) and Bob Donnellen (board attorney), should all have the decency to resign," Bowman said. "How the state (Good Shepherd is regulated by the Missouri Department of Mental Health) could allow those board members to remain is beyond me."
A side note. After the hearing, while I was waiting in the lobby with Bowman and some of the observers in hopes of talking with Fidler, Tom Jackman, a reporter for the Star came over to us and wanted to interview Bowman. He said to Bowman, "Come, unburden yourself to me." Before Bowman could respond, two of the observers asked Jackman why the Star was all of a sudden interested in this story after it had refused to cover it on its own and had only written about it two months after it appeared in the New Times.
Jackman said that was then and this is now and he was here to cover the story. He asked Bowman how he felt now, if he felt vindicated, that type of thing. As Bowman said he was gratified that justice had finally come to Fidler, Jackman was writing in his notebook. When Bowman lashed into the Good Shepherd Board for covering up the embezzlement for so long, for never filing charges against Fidler, for being grossly negligent in handling Good Shepherd's financial assets, and for being so "arrogant" in the process, Jackman's note taking came to an abrupt end.
"Why did you put your pen and notebook away when Rick (Bowman) started talking about the board," Carolyn Sawyer, one of the observers asked Jackman.
"This stuff is too good. The Star would never print it. It only prints the boring stuff," Jackman said.
This comment occasioned me to pull out my pen and write it down.
"Wait a minute," Jackman said to me. "Are you quoting me?"
PostScript II: The Sentencing
On June 23, 1997, Douglas K. Fidler, aka Brother Francis de Sales, received the maximum prison sentence allowed — 37 months without parole, three years of supervised leave after that and restitution of nearly $200,000 — for embezzling the Community of the Good Shepherd out of more than $250,000 between February of 1992 and March of 1994. (The FBI investigation into the embezzlement restricted itself to this period of time. Research conducted by this writer revealed that Fidler, who was brought on in 1987 as executive director of Good Shepherd, had been stealing from the home for developmentally disabled men since at least 1989, and most probably absconded with $500,000 or more.) Fidler was to begin serving his sentence — at a federal prison in Florida — on July 14.)
Nearly 40 people, most of them family members and friends of Good Shepherd's 20 residents, attended the sentencing at the U. S. Court House. Three Good Shepherd residents were also poignantly there. When Fidler entered the courtroom, he walked straight up the aisle without looking at anyone. During the 10 minutes before the proceedings got underway, Fidler sat stoically at a table with his court-appointed attorney, refusing to look back at anyone in the gallery. As he sat there, the tension between him and the spectators fairly crackled. Obliviously, the clerk and the stenographer, sitting near Fidler directly below the judge's bench, made small talk and enjoyed a few moments of laughter, while all waited for U. S. District Judge Ortie D. Smith to enter the room.
The case of the United States of America versus the former high-living Catholic brother commenced with Judge Smith explaining how the sentencing guidelines had been determined. An assistant U. S. attorney, who asked that Fidler be given the maximum sentence allowed, said one of the reasons for the harshest sentence possible was that Fidler had deceived the Catholic diocese and the home's board of directors by claiming he had started his own religious order after he had resigned in 1991 from the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd. This charge only showed that the U. S. Attorney's Office had either fallen for, or worse yet, bought into the cover-up that the diocese and board were innocent victims of Fidler's malevolence. It is patently absurd for the U. S. Attorney's Office to portray the diocese as not knowing that the Catholic Church in Rome would have never allowed Fidler to form a religious order, or form one so quickly. The truth is, for reasons the diocese or the board have never explained, they allowed Fidler to masquerade as a Catholic brother to suit their own purposes.
When Judge Smith invited the nattily attired Fidler to speak in his own behalf, his words of apology were hushed and short, inaudible to all those who most wanted to hear them.
"Is that all you have to say?" the judge asked incredulously, prompting Fidler to issue a longer but still muted apology.
As the hearing neared its end, Judge Smith said he had intended to hand down the minimum sentence of 30 months, but was swayed to mete out the maximum sentence as a result of the statements given at the hearing by Good Shepherd Board President Michael P. "Fuzzy" White and Richard Bowman, the brother and guardian of one of the home's long-term residents and the person most responsible for bringing Fidler to justice.
White said the embezzlement had crippled the home's fund raising ability. "He [Fidler] wrecked the trust with the families and donor base that had been built up over the past 25 years. ...Nobody trusts us and it's because of this fellow here." Noting that Good Shepherd had not been able to recoup any of the stolen money from its insurer, White concluded by asking the judge to require restitution and the maximum possible sentence. "Send out the word that breaches of trust like this can't be tolerated."
In many ways, White's comments were tinged with irony. White and his predecessor as board president, Ken Mellard, had orchestrated a prolonged cover-up of Fidler's crimes that would result in the very breach of family and donor trust for which White was now condemning Fidler. In the process of the cover-up, White had aggressively and with ill temper opposed Bowman's attempts to bring Fidler's crimes out into the open. How much farther along Good Shepherd's recovery could have been if its board, informed by auditors in October of 1993 of gross financial irregularities, had acted then to remove Fidler and make a clean breast of his many treasons, is a question that should haunt White and the other board members during Fidler's era. When Fidler was finally forced out in late March of 1994, the board told the families of the men and their supporters that Fidler had resigned for health reasons.
Nothing in this case has come easy for Bowman. When he inquired about making a statement to the court at the sentencing, he was told that would not be permitted because Good Shepherd, not him, had sustained the harm. Bowman sent a 53-page fax off to the White House requesting he be allowed, under the provisions of the new victim's rights legislation, to make his statement. The court subsequently acceded to Bowman's request.
After White spoke, the judge called Bowman forward. Bowman moved to the podium, bringing his 39-year-old brother Mike in a wheelchair along with him. "Here is the victim," Bowman told the judge, pointing to his brother who sat now just inches away from Fidler. As much as Bowman wanted Fidler to feel the full responsibility for what he had done, he said he also wanted the court to know that Fidler could not have pulled off the extent of the theft he had, over such a long period of time, without the complicity of a negligent board, a board more intent on cover-up — in preserving the reputations of its individual members from the scandal of the embezzlement — than in the financial welfare of Good Shepherd.
Bowman had the last word.
Click here to contact Pat O'Connor.
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