Updated 2:43 p.m.
A former executive at Planned Parenthood of Illinois has been charged with stealing more than $100,000 from the nonprofit group between July 2015 and April 2017, according to court records obtained by WBEZ.
Andrea Peoples, 41, was arrested three weeks ago at a home in Burr Ridge after an investigation by the Chicago Police Department, and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office indicted her for felony theft on Tuesday.
In a statement this week, Planned Parenthood said a routine audit nearly three years ago found that Peoples “embezzled money from the organization’s general operating funds.” She had worked as the director of financial initiatives for the nonprofit, which takes in revenue of more than $40 million a year.
And now leaders of another nonprofit group that hired Peoples after she had left Planned Parenthood say they fired her because they recently found she stole from them, too.
In 2018 Peoples became the chief financial officer of Chicago House and Social Service Agency, an organization that provides housing and other services to families affected by HIV and AIDS.
In a letter on Jan. 15 to Chicago House board members and donors, the group’s leaders said they launched an internal investigation after learning that Peoples had been arrested on Jan. 6. They quickly determined that “we were victimized by a complex financial fraud scheme led by Ms. Peoples.”
Chicago House Board Chairman Ryan Garrison said two other “senior level” employees also were involved in the fraud scheme there and were fired, though he declined to name them.
“It’s a suspected six-figure theft, and it is relatively devastating to our organization,” Garrison told WBEZ this week.
Garrison suggested his group might have averted being victimized if it had known sooner about Peoples’ problems at Planned Parenthood.
“From my understanding, Andrea was first reported to the police in April 2017,” Garrison said. “She could not have begun embezzling from Chicago House until August of 2018, which was when she was hired.”
Peoples did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday. Howard Wise, a Chicago criminal defense attorney, said he is representing Peoples. Wise declined to comment for this story.
A woman who answered the door Wednesday morning at the Burr Ridge address where Peoples was arrested said she didn’t know Peoples.
She was paid $125,000 a year as the top financial officer for Chicago House, and is due in court again on Feb. 13.
“We are unable to confirm or deny any additional investigations,” said a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney, Kim Foxx.
A spokesman for the Chicago police declined to comment on the case because it is now pending.
Planned Parenthood officials confirmed they went to the police in April 2017, “shortly after we learned about the fraudulent activity,” and said they turned over all the internal evidence they had collected at that time.
According to court records, Planned Parenthood’s general counsel told investigators that Peoples had made “multiple unauthorized purchases” with the group’s credit card.
The group’s spokeswoman also said they believe the theft was an “isolated incident” that did not involve any other Planned Parenthood employees.
Meanwhile, Chicago House’s chief executive also filed a report with police on Jan. 10, alleging that the group had been the victim of “theft by deception.” A police spokesman confirmed detectives are investigating.
“It was a complex financial fraud and scheme that would not have been capable without multiple participants,” said Garrison, the organization’s board chairman.
Chicago House was founded 35 years ago and has an annual budget of $9 million, including government grants and charitable contributions. Garrison said the theft involved private donations and not public funds.
He said many of the people aided by the group are in dire need.
“I cannot wrap my head around how an individual can steal money from the homeless,” Garrison said.
Carrie Shepherd is a news reporter for WBEZ. Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter.