The former head of an Autism Society chapter is accused of stealing as much as $80,000 from the group, but that’s not stopping her from hosting a conference later this month keynoted by Temple Grandin.
Law enforcement in Suwanee, Ga. have charged Cynthia Pike, the former executive director of the Autism Society of Greater Georgia, with 16 felony counts of theft by conversion, according to documents obtained by WSBTV in Atlanta. The charges come after an audit found thousands of dollars missing from the group’s coffers.
Police say that Pike was giving herself extra pay without consent from the autism organization’s board and spent the group’s money on her personal cellphone bills. So far, authorities said they found as much as $40,000 was misused and they’re still working to identify where another $40,000 went, according to the television station.
Pike, however, said the charges are baseless.
“I unequivocally state that I am innocent of these false charges,” Pike said in a statement posted on the website of Georgia Autism Conferences — a company Pike formed last September.
Pike is scheduled to host her new group’s first autism conference later this month, featuring several nationally-known speakers and exhibitors. The event will be keynoted by famed autism self-advocate Temple Grandin and exhibitors scheduled to participate at the event include everyone from Autism Speaks to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and assistive device maker DynaVox Mayer-Johnson, according to the conference website.
“I know of no other reason why my former employer would initiate these false allegations other than to ruin me personally and professionally. I do not believe that it is coincidental that this occurred right before my company’s first big conference,” Pike said.
Officials at the Autism Society say the Georgia chapter’s board brought in an outside accounting firm to conduct an audit when they first suspected fraud late last year. They subsequently alerted local police.
The group now has a new executive director and is prepared to take legal action to secure the return of any stolen funds, according to a statement from the organization’s national office.
“While we cannot comment on the specifics of this matter, we want each donor and supporter to know that the Autism Society of Greater Georgia remains open for business and has taken all the right actions,” said Scott Badesch, national president of the Autism Society.