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Ellenwood man admits to stealing from arts center

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

ATLANTA — A former facilities director at Woodruff Arts Center has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $1 million from the popular Atlanta cultural complex.

U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said Ralph Clark, 42, of Ellenwood faces up to 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced Aug. 7.

“The Woodruff Arts Center is an important part of the fabric of our community,” said Yates. “This defendant embezzled over $1 million from funds intended for the benefit of our citizens.”

 Mark F. Giuliano, special agent in charge in the FBI Atlanta Field Office, said Clark violated the trust of the Center.

“Mr. Clark chose to violate his position of trust at the Woodruff Arts Center,” he said. “In addition, he violated federal law by attempting to profit through arrangements with various contracted vendors. The FBI will continue to provide assistance and investigative resources in such matters that negatively impact our non-profit, cultural institutions such as the Woodruff Arts Center.”

Yates said Clark was promoted to director of facilities at the Center in June 2006. His duties included ensuring that the Center was properly maintained. As director of facilities, he was authorized to approve vendor contracts up to $50,000. While carrying out these duties between November 2005 and October 2012, Clark embezzled more than $1.1 million from the Center, said Yates.

"Clark embezzled the money by submitting invoices for bogus expenses to Woodruff Arts Center’s accounts payable department," she said. "The bogus invoices included invoices from his wife’s business — Lowe’s Services — which was an apartment cleaning business set up by his wife in 2003."

The bogus Lowe’s Services invoices were for goods and services that were never provided to the Center or were performed by Clark himself, said Yates.

"After the accounts payable department received the invoice, they generated checks from their checking account at SunTrust Bank," she said. "Clark would then pick the checks up in person and deposit them into accounts on which he had signatory authority."

Clark also defrauded the Center by requiring another vendor who provided maintenance services to pay him kickbacks based on inflated invoices, said Yates. Clark told the vendor that in order for him to get future work he would have to inflate invoices Clark ultimately submitted to Center by 30 percent, and then give that 30 percent back to Clark, she said.