Call it a lack of due diligence at best or gross negligence and turning a blind eye at its worst, there is one thing that ties two of those accused of stealing from Aid from Friends, history. Two of the three defendants had a history of crimes for financial gain before working for the non-profit.
The latest suspect, Mindi Etcheverry - according to a LinkedIn profile - started her employment at the organization in May of 2007 as Shelter Supervisor. She served in that capacity till February of 2009. The profile shows she returned to the non-profit in April of 2011, this time as Payee Manager. According to BJ Stensland, Executive Director at Aid for Friends, Etcheverry was hired initially as a work/study in the shelter program, transitioning first to a part-time position in the payee and shelter programs, finally ending full-time in the payee program.
In addition to her current charge of petit theft from Aid for Friends, in April of 2012 and while serving as payee manager that Ms. Etcheverry was charged with misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance and misdemeanor drug paraphernalia. The possession charge was later dismissed but Etcheverry was sentenced to a fine of a little over $260. Her attorney during these proceedings was Aid for Friends board member D. Scott Heide. Heide now serves as board chairperson. Heide says the organization was aware of the charge but did not view it as serious since they felt it did not impact her job performance. Heide says he has also represented Etcheverry in other cases and has abstained from participating in the decision making process when it came to Ms. Etcheverry.
Before her employment with Aid for Friends, Etcheverry was charged in Caribou County with felony burglary back in 2002. The charge was later amended to misdemeanor petit theft and the conviction was set aside in 2011. That same year, she stood accused of felony leaving the scene of an injury accident, that charge was reduced to misdemeanor providing false information. In 1999, she was charged with misdemeanor petit theft in Twin Falls County and was handed down a 30-day suspended jail sentence.
Etcheverry has since been fired from Aid for Friends.
Going back to the case of Leslie A. Briggs, Briggs was no stranger to stealing from her employer. In 2006, Briggs stood accused and was found guilty of stealing from Ridley’s in Pocatello. According to the report from the Pocatello Police Department, Briggs would ring up a customer and once they would leave, return an item for an excessive price. One example cited in the report was a return of water softener for over $200. She later received a withheld judgment.
In 2000, Briggs was found guilty of embezzlement from the Econolodge in Pocatello. According to the report, she would bill a customer at one rate and then charge them a lower rate, pocketing the difference. Briggs was fined about $580 for the crime. Stensland says Briggs was hired before her time as Executive Director so she could not speak to the hiring process involved with Briggs.
Stensland declined to go on camera but would say that since the latest revelations of theft from the organization they’ve instituted annual background checks. She would also like to reiterate that Aid for Friends is still open and is not shutting down. The organization is on strong financial footing and it holds fast to its mission and its other programs. The payee program was the program that had the greatest opportunity for risk and that the payee funds were completely separate from the general and operating funds from Aid for Friends. She continued that the organization is currently using an independent auditor and that Social Security also performs their own audits. Stensland went on to say that most fraud is discovered by astute employees like in the cases of Briggs and Barbara Waters. Since the thefts, Aid for Friends has taken a proactive approach to these situations by implementing stricter controls and tighter over sight. Stensland said she is proud to be a part of an agency that has brought this to justice and did the right thing by notifying authorities. She also says embezzlement happens in all organizations, we just hear about it more about it more when it happens to non-profits.
In 2013, Briggs was sentenced to 21 months in prison for her role in stealing over $100,000 from Aid for Friends.
The third person accused of embezzlement, Barbara Waters, was recently sentenced to five months in prison for her crime. Waters does not have a prior criminal record with the State of Idaho.