Shriners: Missing money, internal power struggle underway - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Shriners: Missing money, internal power struggle underway

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Story by Melydia Clewell
WRCB Special Assignment Reporter

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - Thousands of dollars donated to Chattanooga's Alhambra Shrine Temple have disappeared and a paper trail shows thousands more spent on secret insurance policies for two Shriners and their wives.

Chattanooga Police detectives trying to track the missing money say temple leadership stonewalled their investigation by refusing to talk and withholding financial records for the organization.

An external audit report from Certified Public Accountant Richard Key shows "serious errors and omissions by the treasury and accounting functions" of the shrine. The document also shows auditors were particularly concerned about months' worth of cash, collected on a daily basis, not making it into the organization's bank account.

Shriners Hospitals for Children is a national health-care network of 22 medical facilities that treat children, primarily those with burns or orthopedic conditions. Treatment at a Shriners Hospital is free to the patient and is funded by the corporation's endowment, which tax records show is worth more than ten billion dollars.

Shriners International is a fraternal philanthropic organization, comprised of 191 temples (or chapters) whose mission is to support the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

Chattanooga's Alhambra Shrine temple conducts several large fundraisers each year, including a circus, pecan log sales, and a bass tournament. Those events raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and almost all those donations come in as cash. Audit results released this year show at least $20,000 never made it into the temple bank account.

Shriner David Nelson, an attorney, told Eyewitness News the problems have been corrected. "It happened in 2008. We consider it history."

That's the official line from Shrine leaders, but nearly a dozen Shriners have told Eyewitness News that money collected in 2009 and 2010 is also unaccounted for. Financial records for 2008-2010 are also allegedly missing. We went to the Shrine Temple looking for answers. Past Potentate Stanley Wagner asked us to focus on their main mission: sick children.

"We spend about $150,000 a year just on transportation, just to get them to and from the hospital."

That's true. 2008 tax records show more than $100,000 spent on transporting children. But that's just a fraction of the nearly one million dollars raised by Shriners that year. Almost all of the money went into the Shrine's general fund. There's a disclaimer printed on the pecan log boxes they sell, "proceeds for temple activities, not tax deductible."

In addition to the problem with disappearing cash, the Shrine lost another $60,000 when two employees, Glen Casey and Jet Tyler, put themselves and their wives on the organization's health insurance plan without the leadership's knowledge or approval.

2010 Potentate Ronald Oslin fired the men, both of whom are Shriners, but the temple did not pursue criminal charges. Oslin is out of town and was unavailable for comment on this story. We were referred to attorney David Nelson. He said Casey and Tyler said they will reimburse the shrine but acknowledges both men have limited incomes.

"They have agreed to pay back the excess funds," Nelson said. "Whether they will or not is something we just don't know."

Auditors also found serious errors and omissions by the treasury. A fact finding committee created by the shrine membership recommended treasurer John Noll immediately resign. He refused. A phone call to Noll has not been returned.

The Shriners who chose to speak openly with Eyewitness News, Nelson and Wagner, say they've corrected the problems. Nearly a dozen Shriners who would not agree to be named say they were ordered by temple leadership not to discuss the group's problems with the media. At least five of them contend there are thousands of dollars, collected from dozens of fundraisers, that have not been accounted for and they believe was stolen from the shrine. All of them portray an organization that is deeply divided with a power struggle underway leading into next month's annual election of the Divan, which is essentially the organization's board of directors.

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