The state attorney general’s office has accused the former leader of a prominent abortion-rights group of spending charitable funds on shopping sprees, a Hamptons vacation rental, fine dining, high-end hotels and other personal luxuries.
The civil complaint filed Thursday in Manhattan follows 54-year-old Kelli Conlin’s guilty plea a year ago to falsifying business records, a felony. Her criminal case was to close without jail time or probation if she paid $75,000 in restitution to NARAL Pro-Choice New York and its affiliated foundation that she led from 1992 through 2010.
However, David Nachman, enforcement section chief of the attorney general’s Charities Bureau, said that Conlin’s spending amounted to “hundreds of thousands of dollars in improper benefits.”
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office is requesting she repay all of it, with interest, and reimburse its own legal and investigative costs.
The attorney who represented Conlin last year, Robert J. Anello, said the facts haven’t changed and he thought she had resolved the case with the district attorney’s office.
“It seems to me to be an unfair piling on once the case has been decided in good faith,” he said.
Conlin’s current attorney, her brother, didn’t immediately return a telephone call seeking comment on Friday.
Schneiderman has recused himself because his late father, Irving, was NARAL Pro-Choice New York’s treasurer for a time. His office appointed an outside counsel to investigate Conlin in March 2011. NARAL and other abortion-rights groups were among Schneiderman’s supporters in his 2010 campaign for attorney general.
NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health said Friday that they applaud the civil action and have implemented new financial controls since Conlin was terminated in January 2011. The group said it did an internal investigation and has cooperated with the attorney general’s probe.
“Ms. Conlin betrayed the trust of NARAL’s supporters and donors by using charitable funds to finance her lavish lifestyle,” said Jason Lilien, chief of the Charities Bureau. “Our office is committed to rooting out corruption in the charitable sector wherever it exists, and we will vigorously crack down on those who rip off the public for their own personal gain.”
Conlin paid full restitution in the criminal case, according to the Manhattan prosecutors. Joan Vollero, spokeswoman for District Attorney Cyrus Vance, said Vance’s office held Conlin accountable for criminal misconduct and is pleased the attorney general’s office will now seek the return of additional funds through civil enforcement.
The complaint cites more than $250,000 of improper expenses, some falsely documented, while noting Conlin’s salary was $380,000 in 2010 and she exercised increasing control over its outside bookkeepers and intimidated staff.
They included $75,000 for retail purchases, with nearly $50,000 for designer clothing and shoes at stores such as Barneys and Giorgio Armani, some described in expense claims as “event decor” for the nonprofits’ fundraisers.
Others were $17,000 for a July rental of a Southhampton house; $12,200 to pay her children’s nanny; $26,000 for personal travel; $18,500 in hotel expenses in Manhattan, where NARAL-NY has its office, though she lived in Brooklyn; $50,000 for non-business meals, including 120 from a sushi restaurant near her home; and $70,000 for car services, most for shuttling her children.
Pretty pathetic when they can't keep from robbing the only charity they have.