Charity founder quits after criminal past emerges

A woman who started her own charity in the Moncton, N.B., area has resigned after it emerged she was accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a national charity and convicted of defrauding an Ontario charity.

Beverly Mitchell says her past 'doesn't reflect the changes that I'm trying to create'

Beverly Mitchell and Joseph Benoit, of The Grasshopper Foundation. Mitchell is no longer associated with the foundation. (CBC)

A woman who started her own charity in the Moncton, N.B., area has resigned from the organization after it emerged she was accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a national charity and convicted of defrauding an Ontario charity.

Beverly Lumsden, who now goes by Beverly Mitchell, is wanted on fraud charges in Alberta in connection with the Canadian Progress Club and the Rotary Club.

In 2005, Lumsden was convicted of fraud over $5,000 in Strathroy, Ont.

Mitchell, who was the executive director of Victim Services, a community-based organization that helps victims of crime and disaster, systematically stole more than $52,000 between June 2003 and May 2004 by forging cheques to herself, according to police records.

Moncton-area police have not received any complaints about Mitchell or the charity she founded in Riverview in May, called The Grasshopper Foundation.

When asked about her past by CBC News this week, Mitchell resigned suddenly from the organization.

The foundation issued a statement saying that Mitchell no longer has any association to the organization.

The foundation, which has an office in Moncton, is a registered charity, but Canada Revenue Agency's charities directorate has not necessarily verified the information provided the charity, according to the federal government website.

Meanwhile, RCMP in Alberta are looking into issuing a Canada-wide warrant for Mitchell's arrest.

Charity in memory of son

Mitchell was a guest on CBC's Information Morning in Moncton last Friday, talking about the new charity she said she started in her son's memory, to help grieving parents and keep children out of trouble.

Douglas Lumsden Jr., 16, was killed in a car accident in July 2010, she said.

"He is gone. He is gone forever. And this is something I have to deal with and I have to figure out how to live. And that's the tough part because so many parents get attached to the grief, because the grief is the only thing you have left of your child," she said. "You don't have their physical body, you don't have their future any more."

"So once I got to that stage, I recognized I had to do something. I can't just sit here and die his death. I have to remember that while I had him a short time, I got him at all, so there was the silver lining in that cloud."

"And so I decided we need to do something positive. We need to impact other teenagers.  I need to work so that other parents don't get that phone call, and if they do get that phone call, they have a soft place to fall."

After the interview aired and was posted on CBC's website, a man from Alberta contacted the newsroom about Mitchell's history.

Resigned from board

In a followup interview, Mitchell confirmed her Ontario conviction.

"That is me, that's correct. I have a very imperfect past. I think that what people need to realize is that is absolutely me, and if that's something that they're going to hold against our foundation, I'm sad for that," she said.

"I did serve the sentence I was convicted of. I did pay my debt to society. And one of the things I did say for instance on the radio with you is that this has changed who I am, and what I stand for and what I believe in.

"I personally believe in second chances. And if that's something other people don't see, then that's their choice. But certainly what I did in my past doesn't reflect the changes that I'm trying to create in everybody else's future," Mitchell said.

Asked about the charges in Alberta, Mitchell said: "I have no charges in Alberta that I'm aware of … I have never been charged with anything from Alberta."

The foundation's executive director, Joseph Benoit, who was observing the interview, asked the reporter to stop recording for a minute.

Then Mitchell started crying and that is when she resigned as board chair of The Grasshopper Foundation, after which Benoit immediately printed a letter saying Mitchell is "no longer associated" with the foundation.

Benoit said he doesn't want anything to tarnish the reputation of the foundation, which also runs a subsidized daycare for young parents who are trying to continue their education, and plans to set up a therapeutic horseback riding facility for at-risk youth, as well as children and adults who suffer from disabilities.

Mitchell's heart was in the right place when she started the foundation, Benoit said. And he believes people deserve a second chance.

Troubles date back to 2003

On May 11, 2004, Mitchell went on extended sick leave from her job with the Victim Services Board in Middlesex County, according to police.

The next day, the board approached Strathroy-Caradoc police to express their suspicions that she had defrauded the organization of at least $30,000.

Mitchell, who has dual citizenship and was about to leave the country for a second job interview for the position of area executive director with the Florida division of the American Cancer Society, was arrested on May 16.

She confessed to defrauding victim services of a "large sum of money," dating back to 2003. Mitchell estimated the amount was $15,000.

Police say she used some of the funds to purchase money orders, which she used for personal use, to buy horse equipment and to pay for a horse trainer.

She also used the money to pay for her personal farm insurance, according to police.

Mitchell hid the fraudulent activity by intercepting the bank statements and delaying their examination by the employee responsible for bookkeeping, according to police records.

Mitchell, who was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay restitution of more than $39,000, told police she wished she hadn't done it; that she had pretty much ruined her life.

She said she had gotten really sick, things were tight at home and she kept digging herself deeper and deeper and didn't know what to do.

She said she knew it was only a matter of time before she got caught.

Alberta charity is suing

In 2008, Mitchell, who was living in Rocky Mountain House, Alta., was named the new national business manager of the Canadian Progress Club in a newsletter from the then national president.

The announcement said she brought an "extensive background with charitable organizations" to the club, which has 35 locations across the country that support their local communities through fundraising for those in need.

Just over a year later, in 2009, the Canadian Progress Club dismissed Lumsden for allegedly failing to disclose a criminal record prior to her hiring.

The club also filed a complaint with police over financial concerns.

The local Rotary Club had also filed a police complaint about Mitchell.

"Currently there are warrants out for Beverly Lumsden for fraud," said Const. Todd Depagie of the Rocky Mountain House RCMP.

She is facing two charges of fraud over $5,000, he said.

Mitchell is accused of stealing $369,898.20 from the Canadian Progress Club, said Depagie.

"Just because of the nature of the file itself, with the amount of money that has been, I guess been fraudulently taken, it was handed over to our general investigative section, which deals with a bit more of the serious crimes."

The Canadian Progress Club has an ongoing lawsuit against Mitchell in the Court of Queen's Bench in Alberta, said national president Michele Russell.

"We identified there's potential fraud against our organization," she said.

"If this is the same person, which we believe it to be, we would want anyone dealing with her to be careful."