Former nonprofit executives charged with stealing more than $350,000

Posted: August 02, 2014

Even as their homeless clients struggled to eke out a living, two former executives of a Philadelphia nonprofit jetted to exotic locales, treated themselves to shopping sprees, and dined at some of the city's priciest restaurants - all with taxpayer money allotted for charitable aid, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Erica N. Brown and Nathaniel E. Robinson - both former employees of SELF Inc., which operates nine homeless shelters in the city - face theft charges stemming from the more than $350,000 they are accused of charging to the agency's American Express cards.

Brown, 38, of Glenolden, worked as SELF's former chief operating officer. According to court filings Thursday, she traveled to the Caribbean, Orlando, and Cape May, dined at the Four Seasons, bought toys for her children, paid her personal trainer, and bought not one - but five - pairs of Ugg boots, all on the charitable organization's dime.

Brown was charged Thursday by a criminal information, a sign that a defendant has agreed to plead guilty before an indictment. Her lawyer, Mark Neff, said Thursday's charges came as no surprise.

"She did a lot of good things for a lot of good people," he said. "We look forward to resolving this case expeditiously."

For his part, Robinson, SELF's 62-year-old former chief program officer, rented cars, dined out, and expensed hotel stays in the Dominican Republic and Mobile, Ala., prosecutors said.

Those expenses came in addition to thousands of dollars in shoes, boots, chocolates, and electronics allegedly charged to his American Express card.

Both Brown and Robinson have maintained that they reimbursed SELF for the money they spent on themselves, but prosecutors said Thursday the sums they contributed were only a pittance of what they took.

Brown is accused of embezzling $199,000 between April 2005 and November 2010, She returned less than $5,000, government lawyers said. Of the $157,000 Robinson allegedly stole, he returned less than $3,000.

SELF's chairman, former Mayor W. Wilson Goode, declined to comment Thursday, saying only that Robinson and Brown were both fired in 2010.

Questionable spending at the organization was highlighted in a series of Fox29 news reports in 2012, in which Goode described Brown's and Robinson's spending as "absolutely wrong."

"None of it should have happened," he said. Still, he said, he did not believe the two broke any laws.

Founded in 1989, SELF provides shelter and services to 600 of the city's homeless. It receives millions of dollars each year in funding from the city, state, and federal governments.


jroebuck@phillynews.com

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