Ex-Haskell Foundation director pleads guilty to embezzlement

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TOPEKA, Kan. - Gerald T. Burd of Mission, Kan., entered a guilty plea May 17 before U.S. District Judge Richard D. Rogers to one count of embezzling from the Haskell Foundation.

Burd admitted that from Jan. 2, 1998, through Dec. 10, 1999, he embezzled approximately $103,979.47 in property from the foundation, which is a separate entity and not a part of Haskell Indian Nations University.

Although Burd's plea answers some questions, an audit of the troubled foundation's books in March 2000 reported the foundation was more than $1.5 million in debt. Many are questioning what happened to the other $900,000 supposedly entrusted to the foundation.

Following a yearlong investigation by the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI, Gerald T. Burd was charged with embezzling funds from the foundation. He faces a possible 10 years in prison at his sentencing Aug. 24.

At his May 17 hearing, Burd was charged with: wiring himself $22,084 from foundation accounts; cashing $4,000 in checks which had been intended for activities related to scholarships at Haskell; falsifying expense vouchers and then writing checks totaling $10,517 to himself; paying a $7,000 bonus to himself; earning a master's degree from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., using foundation money to finance his tuition; writing double paychecks to himself; using the foundation's credit card; giving himself advances in pay, and paying personal bills using foundation funds.

Burd, no stranger to financial and legal trouble, had already lost his CPA license 1997 in New Mexico and surrendered his CPA license in Kansas in 1997 and his Missouri CPA license in 1998. He filed for bankruptcy in 1997 and was accused of stealing $40,000 from his former business partner, and allegedly misappropriating $300,000 from a relative's estate.

It has also been reported that Burd received nearly $120,000 by telling friends and members of his church that he needed money to cure a rare kidney disorder.

Trouble started for the Haskell Foundation with rumors of checks bouncing and failure to complete a 1998 audit requested by the Haskell Indian Nations University Board of Regents. Reports of unpaid bills and bouncing checks caused concern for both the university and the regents.

By December 1999, Burd had told university officials, regents and foundation trustees that an anonymous donor was providing funds to take care of the foundation's financial problems. Burd's refusal to name the anonymous donor and his refusal to release financial information to the board of regents was unacceptable to the board.

Mamie Rupnicki, then president of the regents, wasn't getting the answers she wanted from Burd and made an unannounced visit to the foundation office. Following that visit, the regents made an ultimatum - return control of the foundation to the regents or cut all ties with the university. Burd resigned his position the next day.

As the foundation and the university attempted to work through the debts incurred by the foundation and make sense of the records, they also tried to find where grant and donation money meant for students and university programs had gone.

The Prairie Band Potawatomi attempted to lend a hand to the foundation by loaning it $47,000 to pay salaries and administrative costs.

By March of 2000, Certified Public Accountant Mike Scanlan had been hired. He specializes in helping troubled businesses. His examination of the foundation's books showed that more than $1.5 million was needed to put the foundation in the black again. The sum included not only unpaid bills, but also a $100,000 lien by the IRS.

In the aftermath, what troubles many close to the university is the fact that not only did the Haskell Foundation hire Burd, but also never bothered to check out his background. Burd had originally been hired as a temporary employee by former director Fran Day and then put onboard as a permanent employee, (eventually becoming the foundation's director) without his questionable past ever being brought up.

Officials say it appears he simply fell through the cracks.

Earlier this year the Haskell National Alumni Chapter announced it was cutting all ties with the foundation because of the financial mess.

Martha Houle, president of the national chapter said she was relieved to hear about Burd's plea, but added all of the Haskell Alumni Chapters, except for those in Oklahoma, were going to stand their ground and would no longer have any ties or donations going to the Haskell Foundation.

Haskell Regents have given the foundation another chance. The consensus was that if the foundation were eliminated, a whole new tax status and various other legal documents would have to be filed and a new not-for profit organization set up to handle private donations and government grants for the university.

No group has stepped forward saying it was ready to take on the responsibility of a new foundation. The time it would take to get a new foundation up and running could cost the school numerous grants and private donations.

The Haskell Foundation can receive grants and private donations the school cannot accept and distributed them to students and various departments on the HINU campus.

As a new board of trustees for the embattled foundation struggle to get the organization back in working order, new rumors are circulating about members of the former foundation board who may be under investigation in regard to the other $900,000.

A source close to Haskell questioned purchase of a $65,000 dishwasher. "There was a big deal about a dishwasher that somehow the foundation paid for," the source said. "Haskell ended up with it, how come that never got in the restitution stuff? How did that stay out of the papers and out of the information stuff? That's a lot of money still missing, $900,000."

Another source close to Haskell was unable to answer questions because the FBI told them the investigation is ongoing. Calls from Indian Country Today to the FBI office in Kansas City to confirm status of the investigation were referred to the U.S. attorney's office in Wichita. Asked about an on-going investigation, spokeswoman Kena Rice had "No comment." She did offer to forward the message to the attorneys to see if they had any comment. None was received.

Attempts to contact both Burd and members of the foundation were unsuccessful.