'He took all our money': Embezzlement threatens future of Kirkland charity
By PEYTON WHITELY
Kirkland Reporter Reporter
August 30, 2011 · Updated 2:42 PM
A Kirkland-based charity that's been swindled out of more than $112,000, according to federal criminal charges, has lost so much money that its future operations are in jeopardy.
"This is an awful thing that's happened to us," said Steve Lamson, founder of the RMH (Ronald McDonald House) Holiday Cruise. "He took all our money."
The concerns have emerged from a financial saga that dates to 2009 and resulted in a federal grand-jury indictment being issued Aug. 25 against Randall R. Morrison. The indictment accuses him of two counts of wire fraud relating to his work as treasurer of the RMH Holiday Cruise, which was started in 1982 and operates with a volunteer staff from Juanita.
Morrison is charged with stealing at least $112,220, although other parts of an investigation estimate the total loss at more than $142,220.
"There might be $4,000, maybe $5,000 left," said Lamson.
Lamson founded the nonprofit cruise in 1982 and expanded it in 1996 by drawing support from the Kirkland Police Department and other sponsors, now including the Medina Police Department, the Seattle Police Officers Guild, Argosy Cruises and the Overlake Golf & Country Club.
"It just kept growing," said Lamson, and now the cruise takes hundreds of ill children and their families on Christmas Eve voyages on Lake Washington annually. The children are victims of such illnesses as leukemia and are residents of Seattle's Ronald McDonald House.
The financial devastation began after Morrison was recruited to become the RMH Holiday Cruise treasurer, said Lisa Haistings, president.
Morrison was brought in because he'd been working with financial matters at Microsoft Corp., said Haistings, and he seemed like a good fit to take over the RMH cruise money matters. He joined the charity in 2005.
The cruise has raised funds through contributions and an annual auction at the Overlake country club.
Morrison sometimes has been identified as a former Kirkland resident, but Haistings said she never knew exactly where he lived, adding that he used a Kirkland post-office box as an address when he worked with the Holiday Cruise.
Haistings said she's hopeful new individual donations will allow the cruise to continue, but added that Morrison "took the majority of money we had.
"The financial problems were discovered in January, 2009, when Haistings got a phone call from a health-care company in Cleveland, Ohio, explained Don Carroll, a Kirkland detective who works with the United States Secret Service in investigating financial fraud.
Morrison had moved from the Kirkland area to Ohio in about August, 2006, to go to work as chief financial officer for the Cleveland company, Carroll added. He continued to handle the Kirkland charity's finances by telephone and email.
"Morrison had embezzled company funds through the improper use of his...corporate credit card," wrote Carroll in an affidavit of probable cause filed in United States District Court in Seattle in May.
"Among other things, Morrison had directed several sizable, unauthorized payments to RMH Holiday Cruises and similarly named entities," Carroll added, but the money instead went for his personal use.
The Ohio call led the Holiday Cruise to start checking its own accounts. Haistings "discovered large discrepancies," Carroll continued.
In one transaction cited as an example, Carroll noted how a $3,000 check was written against the cruise account at the Bank of America to Chase Bank and marked for the "RMHHC Fidelity."
But the cruise charity didn't have a Chase account, he added.
Morrison "improperly obtained no less than $142,220 from RMH Holiday Cruise," Carroll continued, adding that he may have paid back about $30,000. That payment was described in an Express Mail package sent to the charity in April, 2009, in which Morrison enclosed a letter estimating he'd stolen about $95,000 from the Holiday Cruise and had made a $30,000 repayment in September, 2006.
Morrison was suspended by the Ohio company in December, 2008, and formally fired in January, 2009, Carroll added. Morrison was dismissed from the Holiday Cruise on Jan. 20, 2009, for suspected theft.
He now lives in Tallahassee, Fla. When he was asked about the possible thefts in 2008 and early 2009, Morrison replied that he "had a gambling problem," Carroll continued.
Morrison is free on a bond that includes such restrictions as confining his travel to Florida and Washington and requires that he attend a gamblers-treatment program. Morrison is represented by the federal public-defender's office and is scheduled to appear for arraignment Sept. 1.
The RMH Holiday Cruise may be contacted at 9805 N.E. 116th St., Mailbox 7414, Kirkland, WA 98034; online at rmhholidaycruise.org or by telephone at 425-820-6586.
Contact Kirkland Reporter Reporter Peyton Whitely at email@example.com or 425-822-9166, ext. 5052.