Felon's past wasn't checked
By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer
By Ken Kobayashi
The Salvation Army did not conduct criminal background checks for its fundraising employees at the time it hired a convicted felon who now faces pending charges of stealing $150,000 from the charitable organization, Salvation Army officials said yesterday.
When Timothy Janusz was hired three years ago to handle large gifts, the Salvation Army only did background checks on workers who dealt with children, but not other employees, said David Hudson, the Salvation Army official in charge of the organization's Hawai'i activities.
In view of the criminal charges against Janusz, the Salvation Army is considering expanding its background check policy, he said.
"It's very difficult to do it to all employees, but we certainly would want to do it with people who are representing the Salvation Army in ways such as Mr. Janusz," Hudson said.
Daniel de Castro, Salvation Army spokesman, said he's "pretty sure" that the organization would have rescinded the job offer to Janusz if it knew about his criminal background.
Janusz, 48, of Kailua, is under arrest, unable to post bail of $1 million on charges of first-degree theft and money laundering.
Both counts carry a prison term of up to 10 years, but because of his previous felony conviction, he would not be eligible for probation and would receive at least a 10-year maximum prison term if convicted, city Deputy Prosecutor Chris Van Marter said.
Van Marter declined to comment on the details of the case, or to say whether anyone else was involved with the theft, because he said the investigation is continuing.
But Van Marter did say that additional charges will be filed against Janusz regarding the $150,000.
Janusz was arraigned yesterday and ordered to return to Honolulu District Court tomorrow to determine whether the evidence is strong enough to send the case to trial.
Jack Tonaki, state public defender whose office is representing Janusz, said it's too early to comment on the case.
Janusz's criminal record includes a federal conviction for diverting $2.2 million from an elderly Colorado couple. He was sentenced to 5 1/4 years in prison but escaped in South Dakota in 1998 and was arrested 14 months later on a Caribbean island, according to court records and an Associated Press report.
Janusz was hired by the Salvation Army here in July 2003 as the planned giving director responsible for arranging large gifts, according to court records. He was paid about $65,000 a year, Hudson said.
The allegations against Janusz include that he deposited three checks of $50,000 each from a Salvation Army donor to an account of a holding company that lists him as an agent.
The Salvation Army here raised about $6 million for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, according to de Castro.
Kelvin Taketa, CEO of the Hawai'i Community Foundation, who is familiar with fundraising practices for nonprofits here, said he can't recall any similar criminal case in Hawai'i.
He commended the Salvation Army for promptly notifying authorities about the case and explaining the situation to the public.
The case inevitably will raise questions about the Salvation Army's control over donations, Taketa said.
"My expectation is that they will be prepared to answer those questions, and it's really going to be left to the donors at that point to decide how they feel about it," he said.
Taketa said he didn't want to speculate about what the donors will do, but said he hopes the case won't discourage the public from donating to other charities.
He said nonprofits should do background checks on employees who handle money and should have strong accounting practices, conflict-of-interest policies, whistle-blower protection and a code of ethics dealing with fundraising.
He said his organization does criminal background checks and other inquiries on its employees.
"I think people need to recognize that nonprofit organizations can try very hard to prevent these things from happening, but even in the best of circumstances, occasionally they're going to happen, and hopefully, they can look past these singular instances and remember the mission of the organization," he said.
Even with all the safeguards, "sometimes you cannot stop bad people from doing bad things," Taketa said.
Hudson, commander of The Salvation Army's Hawaiian & Pacific Islands Division, said the Salvation Army was "saddened" by the case because it is "very, very serious about protecting the trust that people instill in us by their support."
He said he wanted to assure the public that his organization will do everything it can to maintain the trust donors have placed in the organization. He pointed out that the Salvation Army immediately contacted police and cooperated once it learned about the allegations.
Janusz was placed on administrative leave after the Salvation Army received an anonymous tip, and he was terminated from his job last week, Hudson said.
"We hope and pray that the donors will stay with us, knowing that their donations will be used for the intentions that they gave us the money for," he said.
Reach Ken Kobayashi at firstname.lastname@example.org.