Where was the oversight?
Among the many troubling questions that have been raised about the Diocese of Steubenville in the past week there is one that is very simple, yet extremely complex:
Where was the oversight?
Catholics in the diocese, which covers 13 counties in Southeastern Ohio, are left wondering that after last week’s court actions, on the county and federal levels, concerning David A. Franklin.
Franklin, who now lives in Independence, Ky., served as the comptroller for the diocese from 1985 until his retirement in 2017. That’s when officials with the diocese claimed they had discovered “irregularities” in his accounting records and financial reports, after an independent accounting company determined $2.8 million in payroll taxes had been collected but never turned over to the Internal Revenue Service.
As a result, the diocese had to liquidate unrestricted investments to cover the tax debt and the $999,713 in interest and penalties that were due to the IRS.
Investigations have followed, and on Tuesday, Franklin admitted in federal court in Columbus to embezzling nearly $300,000 during a nine-year period that began in 2008. His guilty pleas to willful failure to account for and pay employment tax, wire fraud and filing a false income tax return come with the stipulation he pay $299,500 in restitution to the diocese. The court also could order restitution for other losses sustained by the diocese including tax loss, interest and penalties.
And then on Wednesday, the Jefferson County grand jury indicted Franklin on several felony counts including theft, receiving stolen property, falsification and defrauding creditors. Those charges, Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin explained, are separate from the charges Franklin admitted to in federal court.
All of that came after the diocese filed suit against Franklin in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court to recoup its losses. A stay was issued in those proceedings in May so Franklin could address the issues in the federal case.
Last week’s court actions represent a few more steps in what figures to be a long process of obtaining justice for the thousands of Catholics who are served by the diocese. Those thoughts were shared by Hanlin after Wednesday’s indictments were made public. She held nothing back.
“So many people in our community donate money, even though many times they may not have a lot themselves,” Hanlin said. “They deserve to know what happened to their money, and I think they’re entitled to know the money they donate to the diocese actually goes where it’s supposed to go and helps the people it’s supposed to help.’
The allegations, she said, involve “an extraordinary amount of money,” and added that “… People in the diocese deserve answers to that, and they deserve to have the money repaid.”
While Franklin’s pleas on Tuesday and Wednesday’s indictments are good first steps toward making that happen, there are still many questions that will need to be answered. For instance, it’s difficult to understand how one person could redirect such a large amount of money for such a long period of time and go undetected by his bosses.
Which leads us to wonder, again, where was the oversight?