GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A former United Way executive pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing nearly $1.9 million to buy expensive show horses in what is believed to be the biggest embezzlement case in the agency's history.
Jacquelyn Allen-MacGregor worked for the United Way in East Lansing, Mich., for 20 years before resigning as vice president for finance in November. Prosecutors said she stole the money over seven years, beginning in 1996, and used it to fund her quarter-horse business.
In pleading guilty to federal counts of check forging and engaging in an illegal financial transaction, Allen-MacGregor said she once paid $45,000 for a horse.
Allen-MacGregor, 46, faces up to 10 years in prison on each count at sentencing in May. She agreed to let the United Way seize and sell her assets in an effort to recoup the money.
The plea comes eight years after William Aramony, a former chief of the national charity, was convicted of defrauding United Way out of $600,000 to support a lavish lifestyle for himself and his girlfriends.
Following public scrutiny of charitable organizations following the Sept. 11 attacks, United Way of America last month instituted additional checks and balances in its accounting procedures, said Brian A. Gallagher, president and chief executive officer of the Alexandria, Va.-based organization.
Allen-MacGregor said she stole the money by writing checks to herself on the local United Way account and forging the names of required cosigners. When the bank returned the canceled checks to the agency, she destroyed them.
The chapter now uses an accounting firm to reconcile bank statements.
Allen-MacGregor also said she deposited the money into two accounts she shared with her husband, one personal and one for the horse business, Celebration Quarter Horses. She said her husband knew nothing about the transactions because she handled the family's finances.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Mekaru said more than 300 forged checks have turned up dating to 1996; 45 were discovered from last year alone.
Allen-MacGregor pleaded guilty to help make amends, defense lawyer Brian Morely said. She declined to comment as she left the courtroom.