Phillip Keeling, former Vero Beach-based agency board member, charged with grand theft

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — A nonprofit agency that serves Haitians with health needs is recovering after thousands of dollars were stolen by a former board member, according to the Indian River County Sheriff's Office.

Phillip Dustinn Keeling, 21, of the 8000 block of 90th Avenue, Vero Beach, was head of the Vero Beach-based Haiti Clinic's fundraising committee and was tasked with organizing an April 21 event, the Sheriff's Office said. But after other board members realized thousands of invitations had not been sent out, contractors had not been paid and Keeling had received more than $21,000 for reimbursement, they contacted detectives, the affidavit states.

Keeling was charged Tuesday with seven counts of grand theft and five counts uttering a forged instrument.

The agency formed nearly five years ago after doctors from Brevard and Indian River counties held a two-day makeshift clinic in an impoverished Haitian city, according to the group's website. The ongoing goal is to provide medicine and medical professionals to the island nation, as well as necessities such as clean water, adequate nutrition, education and sanitation, the site states.

Previous fundraising efforts allowed the group to open a medical office in Haiti, staffed with a doctor and some nurses, the website states.

The April 21 fundraiser, called Casino Night, was held at the Sun Jet Center in the 3300 block of Airport Road, Vero Beach. In the past, such events have collected more than $40,000, but April's fundraiser netted only $2,000, officials said.

After Keeling was appointed to take charge of the event planning, he told the board he was making deposits for catering, decorations, printing and other needs for Casino Night, according to his warrant affidavit.

Keeling said he had paid more than $21,000, either out of his own pocket or on his father's credit card, and he needed to be reimbursed by the clinic, the affidavit states.

When board members contacted the companies Keeling said he had paid, the companies said they had no contracts for Casino Night.

Keeling told the board he would pay them back, the affidavit states. Keeling provided a couple of checks that bounced and later gave one for $7,500, according to the report. However, that last check was money Keeling gained by defrauding a relative, detectives said.

Keeling remained at the Indian River County Jail on Thursday in lieu of $120,000 bail.

Kathryn Johnston, a Vero Beach attorney and vice president of operations for the clinic, could not be reached for comment.

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