Federal prosecutors have charged two more people with defrauding Catholic Charities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. They said Rachael Elizabeth Ekholm and Aisha Lenee Davis pretended to be landlords renting to homeless people and got the nonprofit to send them checks.
In its first criminal case filed in 2019, the Minnesota U.S. Attorney's office alleges that Ekholm stole $109,080 from Catholic Charities between April 2014 and March 2017, when the nonprofit launched an internal investigation.
Ekholm, facing a single count of wire fraud, allegedly filled out phony tax forms and lease agreements. Prosecutors say in court documents that she cashed checks from Catholic Charities and split the proceeds with at least one employee of the organization.
Davis was charged Dec. 28 with fraud for allegedly skimming $87,741 from the nonprofit.
So far five people are accused of scamming Catholic Charities: Shaneka Lashay Mzee, Leteaste Henry-Davis and Sharre Ophelia Rush were each charged by felony information Dec. 21.
The court documents also mention "unindicted co-conspirators." Prosecutors say the thefts began in 2012 and went on for about five years. Catholic Charities told MPR News in a statement last week that it began an internal investigation in March 2017.
Most of the attorneys for those accused either could not be reached or declined to comment. Kenneth U. Udoibok, who represents Aisha Davis, said his client "takes full responsibility for her actions and she intends to comply with all rules relating to this process." In an email to MPR News, Udoibok said that Davis "wishes that the public will exercise patience until she is able to present her side of the story to the judge."
Catholic Charities said it expects the total amount stolen to be less than $750,000, and is working with its insurer to cover the losses.
The nonprofit said it fired employees suspected of being involved, contacted authorities, and continues to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney's office.
Hennepin and Ramsey Counties provided Catholic Charities with the housing funds. In an email to MPR News, Ramsey County spokesperson John Siqveland said that the money came from the Minnesota Housing Finance Administration.
Siqveland said Catholic Charities has refunded the county about $102,000 for housing services grants made between 2013 and 2017. He said the county is reviewing grants made prior to that period, and will request additional refunds if necessary.
Hennepin County spokesperson Carolyn Marinan said that the county began an audit in early 2017 after Catholic Charities notified staff that there was a federal investigation regarding the misdirection of grant funds. Catholic Charities continues to cooperate with the audit, Marinan said.