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UPDATE: Money stolen from Vancouver Pride Society

UPDATE: Money stolen from Vancouver Pride Society

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Theft from non-profit 'extremely disheartening,' says Pride president
Sept 18, 4pm

Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) president Tim Richards confirms that the woman police are now seeking in connection with the theft of more than $12,000 from two festivals volunteered in the VPS office for Pride Week.

Richards says he first noticed the woman, who provided seemingly excellent credentials, at city hall’s Pride Week launch on July 30. With only a handful of volunteers at that particular event, Richards says he noticed the new face and went to thank her. She offered to assist in the office all week, and the VPS, accustomed to last-minute “walk-in” volunteers, accepted.

Richards says the VPS screens potential volunteers, but the woman provided a fake name and address — just as she did to the Taiwanese festival nearly a year earlier.

Like Richards, Charlie Wu says he met the woman police are now seeking only a week before last year’s TaiwanFest.

It seemed a bit odd that the woman wanted to volunteer — since most, but not all, of TaiwanFest’s volunteers are young Asians — but she was “really friendly and really helpful,” says Wu, who is the managing director of TaiwanFest.

The woman was a big help setting up the festival, Wu says. “You just don’t suspect people like that.” Until a group of Taiwanese artists had about $3,000 stolen from their purses backstage on opening night, Sept 3, 2011. Now, Wu says, access to backstage is more strictly controlled; only known volunteers are permitted.

The money stolen from the Pride Society office was part of the cash float prepared for the Davie Street Party on Friday, Aug 3, Richards says.

Asked how the woman had access to the cash float, Richards says she had been volunteering in the office all week. “A little trusting? Yes,” he says. “It’s what happened.”

“We’re certainly reviewing our walk-in process,” he says now of the VPS’s volunteer screening process, “so that, moving forward, we’ll firm that up.”

Richards urges other festivals and non-profit organizations to take precautions, too.

Wu agrees. It’s difficult for festivals and non-profit organizations to find the resources to do thorough background checks on volunteers, he says. “Most volunteers are great and very helpful,” he hastens to add, reluctant to discourage people from volunteering.

Asked what impact the more-than-$9,000 loss will have on the Pride Society, Richards says it’s almost one month’s operating costs for the VPS. “It’s huge. It’s a big impact. It puts us almost a month behind.”

Though he doesn’t think the loss will lead to a deficit this year, Richards is hoping the VPS’s sponsors and partners will provide some financial assistance earlier than usual next spring.

“It’s disappointing. It’s hard to believe that people want to rip off non-profit organizations,” he says. “It was extremely disheartening.”

***

Sept 18, 11am

The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) is asking the public for help in finding the person who stole more than $9,000 from the Vancouver Pride Society on Aug 3.

Police say a female volunteer who had access to the cash is now a “person of interest” in the case. She is described as a white woman, approximately five-feet-four inches tall, 35 to 40 years old with a heavy build and dark, wavy, shoulder-length hair.

Police believe the same woman volunteered almost a year earlier with the Vancouver TaiwanFest, where $3,000 went missing on Sept 3, 2011.

“Inspectors believe that this is the same woman who had access to the money,” VPD spokesperson Sergeant Randy Fincham told a press conference on Sept 18.

Fincham says the woman provided a false identity to both festivals, so police have yet to find her. Officers would like to question her in connection with both thefts.

“We need to speak to this lady. We don’t know what her role is, if any. She is a person of interest at this moment,” Fincham says.

No charges have yet been laid.

If you have any information, call the VPD at 604-717-3200 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Xtra’s call to the Pride Society to ask how the theft has affected its budget was referred to VPS president Tim Richards, who was not in the office. Check for an update to this story soon.


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