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Verbena director under suspicion of embezzlement
Verbena director under suspicion of embezzlement
by Nick Ardizzone - SGN Staff Writer

On Saturday, May 10, the Seattle Police Department was called to Verbena Health, a Pine Street agency which offers a spectrum of health services for Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered women. The two board members who called the SPD then filed a report of embezzlement, which claimed executive director Michelle "Mo" Malkin had been misusing organizational funds. The organization completely shut down following the report, disconnecting their website and leaving their phones ringing unanswered. Tuesday morning, the entire staff of Verbena was fired.

With the SPD currently investigating the embezzlement, all details are being kept under tight wraps. David Haack serves on Verbena's board of directors and agreed to an interview but adhered to the constraints of the ongoing investigation, saying he was unable to comment on the particulars of the case.

"We uncovered some significant financial irregularities in the organization and, because of the significance of the irregularities, it's been necessary for us to investigate actions that were taken by individuals who were placed in a certain position of trust," Haack said carefully. "As soon as we discovered the irregularity last Saturday & the board took swift and immediate action," he said.

The police report of the incident says responding officers were shown evidence of Verbena credit card and checking accounts - for which Malkin was the only authorized signer - being used at Caesars Palace hotel and casino in Las Vegas, NV.

As word of Verbena's difficulties quickly spread, the organization received an "outpouring of support" from the dismayed community. Fundraising parties were scheduled and sympathetic phone calls were made, but when asked if the homespun generosity would be enough to save Verbena, Haack fell silent. "We would definitely need some significant capital in order to save the organization," he choked.

"We would like to be able to have Verbena continue to provide its mission of active health services for Lesbian and Bisexual women and the Trans community. The services that are provided by Verbena are extremely important," Haack said. "We, as an organization, are working on a plan - a multi-platform plan - in terms of how we might be able to transition some of the services into other organizations or reach other formats in order to be able to fulfill the mission of Verbena."

"Temporarily halting the organization's operation at this point is purely an opportunity for us to truly be able to assist the ongoing investigation and provide the best information to the community," he said.

As the investigation continues, the amount missing from Verbena's coffers will be made public. At the moment, it is unclear who was minding the till when the alleged embezzlement occurred, or even how far back the organization's finances were compromised. "We had a lapse in the treasurer due to a resignation on the board - we had, actually, several lapses," Haack said. "That had no relation to the investigation at all, I want to clarify that," he added quickly.

Haack was unable to say with whom the blame rested. "The board was not involved in creating this situation," he stated. When asked about the depth of Malkin's involvement with Verbena's finances, he fell silent.

"Mo Malkin was the executive director," he said. "Ultimately, Mo - I have no comment."

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