Money missing from veterans in need

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. - St. Lucie County is asking the Sheriff's Office to investigate missing funds from an account that directly assists veterans in need. 

A Veterans Services employee resigned after a County statement was sent out, saying she left because she admitted to taking and then re-paying thousands of dollars from the account, but the employee denies leaving for that reason.

Just ten days ago, the United Veterans of St. Lucie County organization received approval for its non-profit status, which means the books now have to be audited.

Catherine LaValle is the group's Vice Chair, and she said at lunchtime Monday, she heard a bombshell.

"The Director of Housing Community Services called and told us that Eileen had resigned," said LaValle.

Eileen Hagerhorst had volunteered for years with the United Veterans as the Secretary, which LaValle said went hand-in-hand with her job as a Veterans Services employee, so her resignation came as a surprise.

"No explanation at all at that point," LaValle said. "They just said they wanted us to be aware of it, so that we could prepare that we knew it was coming."

LaValle said she's shocked that the press release said Hagerhorst admitted to a County official that she had taken, and then repaid, more than $5,000 from a United Veterans special account.

"We are still in the investigative stage. We don't know if anything has been stolen, or if anything was stolen," said Lavalle.

Joe Lusardi is the President of the Vietnam Veterans of America Port St. Lucie chapter, which is one of 35 organizations that fall under the United Veterans umbrella.

He said just because allegations of fund mishandling have come out, he hopes the public understands that the underlying mission has not changed.

"We don't want people to have second thoughts about donating, because the money does go for a very important purpose."

LaValle said, despite this setback, United Veterans will continue to serve those who fought for our country.

"No matter what anybody has heard, we are still going to be serving our veterans," she said.

The funds that were taken, according to the County Administrator's office, came from donations, and are not County funds, not is the account in the name of the County. According to the press release, the account was not subject to County policies and procedures, and was not reviewed annually by independent auditors.

In a statement, St. Lucie County Administrator Faye Outlaw said, "It appears that this fund was set up years ago to expedite emergency assistance to local veterans. While the goal is laudable, there are other ways to accomplish this within County guidelines. We will be developing a policy that specifically prevents an employee from being able to sign on private accounts when it is related to their duties with the County."

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