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Former office manager arrested in alleged theft of Chamber funds

Lori Jo Lauber faces multiple charges after an internal audit uncovers evidence of check, credit card fraud

LAUBERAn internal audit of financial records by the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce uncovered instances of check fraud, unauthorized credit card use and a discrepancy between cash postings and bank statements, chamber officials said this week, leading to the arrest of a former office manager on charges that she misappropriated nearly $25,000.

Lori Jo Lauber, 58, was arrested Friday on charges that range from aggravated theft to multiple counts of fraudulent use of a credit card. She was still being held Wednesday in Clackamas County Jail, with bail set at $75,000.

Lauber worked for the chamber for eight years before resigning in April. Chamber Executive Director Keith Dickerson said Lauber was not fired, and that her departure had nothing to do with any suspicions about financial irregularities. In fact, Dickerson said, Lauber quit not long after “carrying a lot of the load” for the chamber’s most demanding event, its annual awards dinner.

“You always assume that this is the one person you don’t have to worry about,” Dickerson said this week. “But a person can feel cavalier about their position, and an organization can become less attentive.”

Board President Doug Cushing said the chamber’s executive committee discovered the irregularities in its books shortly after Lauber left the organization.

“More discrepancies were uncovered when the review of cash postings was compared to bank statements,” said Cushing, who is also an attorney with the law firm Jordan Ramis. “It was at this time that we also discovered what appeared to be instances of check fraud and unauthorized use of a credit card by Ms. Lauber.”

Cushing reported the discrepancies to the Lake Oswego Police Department on May 13 and filed a claim with the chamber’s insurance company to cover the loss, he said.

Dickerson said the financial irregularities involved fraudulently entered line items to hide check and credit card fraud.

“As we went deeper into our research,” he said, “we didn’t find evidence of any more fraud” than the $25,000 in missing funds reported to police.

Lake Oswego Police Sgt. Tom Hamann said a Clackamas County grand jury reviewed the evidence in the case. A warrant for Lauber’s arrest was issued Friday, Hamann said, and she was taken into custody without incident at her Lake Oswego apartment.

“We have compassion and feeling for the person who perpetrated this,” Dickerson said.

The financial irregularities allegedly occurred during a time of internal turmoil at the chamber, which has more than 500 members. Chuck O’Leary resigned as executive director in December 2013, citing personal business concerns. Dickerson, who is also the pastor of Hope Community Church, took over as executive director in March, a month before Lauber quit.

“We went a while without an onsite executive director,” Dickerson said, “and there probably were opportunities for this person to feel cavalier and unsupervised.”

In an email to members, Cushing said the chamber has now analyzed its reporting systems and taken a series of steps to address the handling of funds and payment approval procedures.

The organization hired a contracted bookkeeper and added two accountants to its expanded finance committee. That committee now regularly goes through each month’s financial records, something Dickerson said was not done “as thoroughly” before.

“We took a closer look at how money comes into the office,” Dickerson said, and instituted tighter controls on how the chamber handles incoming funds. “Checks are now stamped ‘for deposit only’ and deposited as soon as possible.”

Dickerson said chamber officials “gave ourselves permission to make mid-course corrections. Any organization must remain nimble. We’ve learned a lot, and grown a lot.”

Among the lessons learned: “We’ve learned that this is not rare,” Dickerson said. “What’s rare is owning up to it and talking about it publicly. But we hold a position of stewardship, and we have a responsibility to be honest with our constituency.”

Cushing said the “unfortunate chapter in the chamber’s history” has had minimal impact on the day-to-day operations of the organization or on its ability to serve its membership and the community. Insurance fully covered the $25,000 loss, Dickerson said, and the chamber is confident that it has taken the necessary steps to prevent similar incidents in the future.

“Nothing can totally safeguard you from a person being dishonest,” Dickerson said. “But you can put policies in place to mitigate the risk.”

Contact Gary M. Stein at 503-636-1281 ext. 102 or gstein@lakeoswegoreview.com.

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