Sentencing is due in New York on Friday for Bride Whalen, the former executive director of the Society of Publication Designers (SPD) who was found guilty in August of second degree grand larceny for stealing at least $150,000 from its members. Whalen faces up to 15 years in prison.
In an e-mail to members in February, the board detailed the extent of Whalen’s deception, one that included vacations, rental cars, spas, purchases at Macy’s Fur Salon and Saks Fifth Avenue and a large debt at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel:
After Ms. Whalen’s termination in June 2004, it was discovered that the Society was over $275,000 in debt, information which had been kept from the board. An independent forensic accounting team was hired and undertook an extensive audit. Based on the results of this audit the Board believes that SPD’s losses due to Ms. Whelan’s abuses exceed several hundred thousand dollars taken over a number of years. SPD owed money on three loans and on a minimum of fifteen charge cards, as well as to other creditors. We were six months behind in rent and had received an eviction notice. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel was threatening us with a major lawsuit as a result of Ms. Whelan’s negligence in settling our account with them. Winners of the Student Competition had not been paid their cash prizes. Our copier and computers were being seized, and we were behind in income taxes. Individual members of the Board personally covered immediate expenses in order to keep the organization’s most vital systems running. During Ms. Whelan’s tenure, SPD was paying very high fees to an accounting firm that she had engaged. At no point did this firm advise the Board that our organization was on the brink of financial ruin, though their very costly billings should have guaranteed us this level of oversight. We are currently filing an action against the accounting firm. Though the Society’s former counsel strongly urged us to file for bankruptcy, we decided that we would pay every creditor every penny we owed.
At present, nineteen months after Ms. Whelan was dismissed, SPD is operating in the black. This financial recovery was accomplished during a period of ordinary income and extraordinary expenses, proving that SPD’s normal cash flow was more than adequate to support itself without incurring any debt at all. The Board feels this speaks volumes about how deep the abuses were. With our positive bank balance, we have already offered enriched programming, greater career recognition, and a stronger educational outreach. We managed to contribute a total of $20,000 to the graphic design students at Mississippi State and to the AIGA Displaced Designer Fund in response to the Katrina disaster. United every step of the way, the Board believes that we have acted in the best interest of our membership and the community as a whole. Ms. Whelan abused her position and the trust of every member. She spent SPD’s funds on vacations, rental cars, spas, and purchases at Macy’s Fur Salon and Saks Fifth Avenue, among other things. The indictment issued in October 2005 finally moves this case along into the courts, where we have every hope that justice will be served.
Whalen, who was dismissed by SPD in June 2004, will be sentenced by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Bruce Allen.