Rocked by Embezzlement and Lye Attack, Healing Arts Initiative Shuts Down
Attack left HA's director disfigured.
Scandal has rocked a Queens-based arts charity that abruptly shut down on May 11. Healing Arts Initiative (HAI), founded in 1969, offered performances and workshops for the city’s poor, disabled, and elderly, but was brought down by a $750,000 embezzlement scheme that left director D. Alexandra Dyer disfigured after she was attacked with lye while investigating the organization’s finances.
Hired this past July, Dyer took over an organization in turmoil. Since 2012, debt had risen from less than $100,000 to $2.2 million, and HAI had cut staff from 28 to 14, while being forced to move from SoHo to Queens.
In that time, Kim Williams, hired as a payroll clerk in 2011, had been given increasing responsibilities, especially with the company’s chief financial officer position sitting vacant. Prosecutors charge that Williams stole approximately $1,000 a day from her employer between November 2012 and August 2015, for a total of $750,000.
In April, Dyer sued the HAI board on the charity’s behalf, claiming that Williams’s thefts had been enabled by managerial negligence. The director was fired last week.
“If the board thinks that by firing Alexandra Dyer, who uncovered the thefts, and by putting HAI into bankruptcy, they will thwart the investigation into their incompetence, they are sadly mistaken,” Dyer’s lawyer, Ronald G. Russo, told the New York Times. The state attorney general’s office is reportedly monitoring the organization.
Upon taking the reins last summer, Dyer had begun investigating the company’s finances. Williams refused to grant her access to the accounting system, so Dyer moved to hire a new chief financial officer. On August 17, the day Williams met her new future boss, credit card records show she purchased drain cleaner at a Queens supermarket.
Security footage shows Williams removed a box of files from her office the following morning before calling in sick. She never returned to her job. Dyer was attacked with lye-based drain cleaner in the office parking lot outside of the HAI offices on August 19, and had to undergo multiple surgeries.
Williams was arrested this April, along with Jerry Mohammed, who Dyer identified as her attacker through a photo line up, and Pia Louallen, Williams’s best friend, who allegedly controlled some of the bank accounts used to embezzle HAI funds.
Among its other projects, Healing Arts ran the Gallery at HAI, a gallery and studio space for artists with mental disabilities that has exhibited at the Outsider Art Fair.
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