Fraudsters siphon $830,000 meant for homelessness nonprofit

SEATTLE — Fraudsters siphoned more than $830,000 that the city of Seattle intended to send to a family homelessness nonprofit, The Seattle Times reported.

The newspaper said it obtained emails by public records request showing that nine payments sent between November 2020 and April 2021 went to what the city incorrectly thought was an account owned by the nonprofit, Mary’s Place.

“We’ve discovered the bank account that was associated with Mary’s Place automatic payments from the City of Seattle has been changed without our knowledge and our city payments have been deposited to an unknown bank account,” the nonprofit’s executive director, Marty Hartman, wrote in a June email titled “URGENT: FINANCE CONCERN.”

The city confirmed that the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service are investigating, and it said it is reimbursing the nonprofit and introducing safeguards to prevent a recurrence.

Some city councilmembers said they didn’t learn about the theft until Friday.

The city uses public funds to pay Mary’s Place and dozens of other providers for outreach, shelter and food for the city’s homeless population, which was the third-highest in the nation at last count. The diverted money represents less than 1% of the city’s $167 million homelessness budget.

Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who chairs the city’s homelessness committee, said he intends to introduce an amendment next week to put more money toward the city auditor’s office in hopes of catching such issues more quickly.

Mary’s Place, which had $22.5 million in total revenue in 2019, has received a large amount of support from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The company provided the nonprofit permanent space for a new family homelessness shelter in one of its Seattle headquarters buildings.