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Los Angeles

SPCA Lawsuit Accuses Ex-Executive of Theft

April 02, 2002|STEVE BERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is trying to recover nearly $1 million that officials say was embezzled by its chief financial officer, according to a suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The suit alleges that Kenneth Brookwell, who served as the nonprofit agency's vice president from August 1999 until he went on a disability leave in July 2001, took $928,352 from a retirement fund.

The Los Angeles Police Department's financial crimes division is investigating the missing funds, Officer Eduardo Funes, a police spokesman, said Monday.

Madeline Bernstein, president of the Los Angeles SPCA chapter, said the loss will not affect any retirees or result in cutbacks in society programs because much of the money was left over from a retirement plan being closed out after participants had been paid what they were owed.

"We're disappointed and heartbroken and dismayed," she said.

Brookwell declined to comment and referred questions to his lawyer, Robert Bernstein.

"My client maintains his innocence," Bernstein said Monday.

Brookwell joined the SPCA in January 1996 as its controller. He was promoted in August 1998 to senior director of finance and to vice president and chief financial officer a year later, according to the suit filed Friday.

He took a disability leave on July 13, 2001.

Brookwell was the trustee of an account set up to distribute pension funds to participants of the discontinued retirement plan.

Any money left over from those distributions was to be deposited in the society's general fund.

The suit alleges that he took the money when he "wrongfully issued at least 74 checks from the Retirement Plan Account to himself, his banks, his credit card companies, and even construction and design companies apparently involved in the building of his home" in Rancho Mirage.

The suit says Brookwell intercepted unexpected revenues such as bequests, deposited them into the discontinued retirement account and then drew the money for personal uses.

In the suit, the SPCA also accuses Brookwell of issuing checks to retirement plan participants, endorsing them with his own name and depositing them into his bank account.

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