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City of Spokane's 'serious concern' about nonprofit was attempted theft charge from 2013

Julie Garcia, who is a board member for Jewels Helping Hands, was previously charged with attempted theft. The charge was eventually dropped.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The City of Spokane is investigating further concerns into the leaders of Spokane nonprofit Jewels Helping Hands, which was awarded a $750,000 contract to run the South Cannon Street warming center.

The South Cannon Street warming center is scheduled to open on Nov. 22 and is the city's only warming center.

Last week, the City of Spokane announced it was investigating a “serious concern” about an allegation made against a leader of Jewels Helping Hands. The city said the concern did not involve the nonprofit's treasurer, Jason Green, who revealed last week he  previously served prison time for embezzlement from a Southwest Washington company. 

KREM has learned that this allegation is against co-founder Julie Garcia for a theft charge in 2013 when she worked at Spokane in-home care provider Comfort Keepers. The charges were dismissed in 2015. 

According to court documents, Garcia was accused of attempting to steal more than $50,000 from a patient in her care by cashing checks from his account and trying to get the patient to take out a $50,000 CD in her name.

The city said that it is continuing an investigation into the issue, but for now, the nonprofit is allowed to go forward with its work at the warming center. 

RELATED: City of Spokane backtracks removal of nonprofit set to run new warming center

Theft charge arising from checks, CD from patient

According to an affidavit, the son of the patient told police three checks totaling $2,495.50 had been made out from his father to Garcia. The memo lines on the checks read either invoice, home care, reimbursement or a combination of these terms.

Comfort Keepers confirmed to the patient’s son, who had power of attorney over his late father, that Garcia would have no reason to be receiving money from the patient, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit said a client care coordinator at Comfort Keepers told police that a “typical background check” had not been done on Garcia because she was a close friend.

Comfort Keepers declined to comment for this story, saying that it would be illegal for them to speak about a former employee.

The patient’s son also found out that on Oct. 24, 2012, Garcia took the patient to his Wells Fargo branch. According to the affidavit, the patient then bought a $50,000 CD with Garcia listed as the beneficiary.

Wells Fargo called Comfort Keepers to speak with the patient about suspicious transactions, according to the affidavit. After a Comfort Keepers employee answered the call and spoke with Wells Fargo, the patient’s son was alerted to the activity.

The affidavit states that a Comfort Keepers care coordinator told police that Garcia underwent training that outlines rules against stealing from clients or accepting gifts.

RELATED: Rock thrown through window of Jewel's Helping Hands founders home

The attempted first-degree theft charge was eventually dropped on March 31, 2015. 

Jewels Helping Hands said in a statement to KREM on Tuesday that the charges were dropped because they were baseless.

“The case was dismissed because the allegations were completely false and made by someone with a personal vendetta,” the statement reads.

But this contradicts the motion to dismiss document filed in the case. According to the dismissal motion, a Spokane County deputy prosecuting attorney requested the charge to be dropped because Garcia suffered from “chronic medical issues.”

Jewels Helping Hands also claimed in the statement that the new concerns were raised by Spokane City Councilmember Mike Fagan in an attempt to stop the nonprofit from running the warming center.

“These baseless concerns have been brought forward by Mike Fagan in an attempt to derail Jewels Helping Hands operating the warming center,” the statement reads.

Fagan said in an interview over the weekend that he believes in second chances, but is concerned about the warming center due to the vulnerability of those using it.

“I’m all about second chances. I’ve made my mistakes in life. I’ve third, fourth, fifth chances,” Fagan said. “And I get it, but I’m telling you … we’re talking about lives at stake her with this warming center situation.”

Fagan also said he investigated the nonprofit and that he wants to “make sure that we have credible people that are going to take care of what a lot of folks in the city of Spokane consider our most vulnerable.”

RELATED: Jewels Helping Hands defies city order, refuses to vacate warming center

City staying with Jewels Helping Hands – for now

The City of Spokane is requiring the nonprofit to have theft insurance after learning of Jason Green's past embezzlement charge. Jewels Helping Hands also must provide a policies and procedures plan and a data reporting plan, which has always been required, according to spokesperson Kirstin Davis.

Feist also said the city is continuing with the contract at this time as the initial review showed that the concerns “would not preclude the contract from going forward.”

Jewels Helping Hands said it has checks in place to ensure that the hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars will be used correctly.

RELATED: Protesters at Spokane City Hall, demanding 'Open Jewels Shelter Now'

Jewels Helping Hands statement on the new concerns is replicated in full below:

“These baseless concerns have been brought forward by Mike Fagan in an attempt to derail Jewels Helping Hands operating the warming center. 

The City has already stated these ‘concerns’ do not preclude the contract from going forward. 

The case was dismissed because the allegations were completely false and made by someone with a personal vendetta.

Our Board has thorough checks and balances in place. Our contract with the City is a reimbursement structure and the City and JHH have proper controls in place to manage how resources are spent. We will work closely with the City in the implementation of the contract.” 

The City of Spokane’s statement from spokesperson Marlene Feist is replicated in full below:

“We don’t have anything to add since yesterday. We are moving forward with the contract with Jewels Helping Hands at this point.

Nonetheless, the City is proceeding with its review into various concerns that have been raised. The initial review into these matters shows that the concerns raised would not preclude the contract from going forward. 

The operator needs to do the following before the center can open. 

  • Complete the required policies and procedures that will define the center’s operations.
  • Work with Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) staff to develop an easy-to-use format for necessary data reporting.
  • Provide proof of the required insurance policies listed in the contract with the City.

The City, for its part, is proceeding with the tenant improvements and changes needed to meet life-safety codes to allow the center to open as quickly as possible.”

The below video is a report on Jewels Helping Hands defying a previous order to vacate the warming center.

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