NORMAN, Okla. - A former volunteer and employee at Oklahoma Foster Wishes is charged with embezzling almost all of the charity's proceeds.
According to Norman police, Stephanie Ann McElhaney was an administrative assistant at the organization when she stole nearly $23,000. She is charged with felony embezzlement.
Oklahoma Foster Wishes helps raise money, and buys and collects gifts to give to children in foster homes over the holidays. Joe Dorman, the CEO of the new OK Foster Wishes, says they help nearly 8,000 children in foster care in Oklahoma.
"Just to think that someone would steal that money, and take those gifts away from kids, foster kids especially, that's just horrible to think about," Dorman said.
According to newly released court documents, she "purchased nearly $23,000 worth of merchandise through five merchants using the business debit card" belonging to OK Foster Wishes. The charges were made between March and August 2017. Dorman said only about $2,500 was left when she was found out.
Because the charity was nearly broke, the Oklahoma Institute of Child Advocacy took it over in October, building on the good work the stand-alone organization spent years on. Dorman said they've added more financial safe-guards, including audits conducted by the OICA.
"Any of the donations that they gave October of last year, everything completely was covered by an audit," Dorman said, "and those donations did go to the foster kids."
It all happened while the previous CEO, Lisa Davis, was occupied taking care of her young daughter, Mia, who was dying of cancer. She sent the following statement to News 4:
"To everyone who has supported OK Foster Wishes’ mission through the years of ensuring children in foster care have their Christmas wishes fulfilled; I want you all to know how heartbroken I am over the theft of funds from our organization. As you may have heard, a person who I loved, trusted and worked with last year was recently charged with embezzlement.
The theft happened this past summer during the short time I was out with Mighty Mia helping her fight her battle with cancer. Our organization had financial safeguards and monitoring in place, but this person knew how to circumvent those and took advantage of me during a time when I was most vulnerable. Thankfully, this was caught quickly and we were able to stop any further theft and work with investigators to ensure this person is held accountable for her unconscionable actions. This was the ultimate betrayal as she knew that I was at my most vulnerable by being consumed with Mia’s care and frequent hospital stays. She even attended Mia’s funeral, sat with me as family, then continued to make purchases with donations made to OK Foster Wishes for Mia’s memorial.
Since Mia’s passing my family has been struggling greatly to find our new normal without our girl. I want to thank each of you who loved, supported and prayed for us during this time. I have committed to my family to take some time to focus on our healing so I am stepping away from the work in foster care for a season. I will continue to pray for and hopefully one day advocate again for all involved in the Child Welfare System.
I am so grateful to my friend, Joe Dorman and the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy for taking over the work of OK Foster Wishes this past Christmas. I am confident they will continue to help thousands of children in foster care realize that there are people out there who love and care about them.
Thank you all for your love and support this past year,
News 4 tried to reach McElhaney at her home but has not been able to speak with her.
However, according to the affidavit, she told police this was all a mistake, and that "she had unknowingly made all of the purchases with a business debit card."
A warrant has been issued for the arrest of McElhaney.
Dorman encourages people to continue donating to this and other charities because the work they do is important. More information about OK Foster Wishes can be found on the website.