Judge freezes assets for Christmas Bureau

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by MELISSA MAHADEO / KVUE News and photojournalist DAVID GARDNER

kvue.com

Posted on December 5, 2012 at 6:29 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 5 at 7:22 PM

AUSTIN -- The Attorney General's Office filed a petition to freeze the assets of the Christmas Bureau and Wednesday a judge issued a temporary restraining order to freeze their funds. That means the Christmas Bureau cannot access any of their funds for two weeks.

This comes about a week after the Attorney General's Office accused the organization of false and misleading acts and misuse of donations. Within the two weeks, the AG's office will have to "follow the money," and determine where it went and how it was being used.

The office said just a few months ago there was an excess of $26,000 in the Christmas Bureau's Pay-Pal account. Now they said there is only $210 in it. There are four bank accounts linked to the Bureau. The AG's office said they believe as quickly as donations came in, they were taken out.

"The sad thing about this is the Christmas Bureau has a long history in Central Texas. They have helped thousands of families through the holidays," spokesperson for the AG's office Jerry Strickland said. "At some point that went wrong. We need to find out when that went wrong and hold those accountable."

The Christmas Bureau, former director Shon Washington, his wife Michelle Washington, and former members Clift Bowman and Cynthia Colpaart are all named as part of the investigation.

All of the individuals named in the case have five days to present records of their accounts and keys to mail boxes and storage facilities associated with the Bureau.

The Attorney General's Office said it believes the listed parties may have been stealing money from the Bureau for years. Washington first took the role of director in 2010.

The AG's office said it's important to check on charities before giving to them. The office said Washington has been arrested three times for theft and once for possession of a controlled substance.

"When you give to charities, you may want to do a little bit of homework. You may want to find out whether or not they have filed with the Secretary of State's Office, whether or not they filed their last tax return and are in fact filling out their charitable mission," Strickland said.

The AG's office said the Christmas Bureau last filed taxes in 2010.

In addition to freezing all of the Bureau's assets, the Bureau must take down its website immediately.

This does not affect accounts regulated by Operation Blue Santa. That organization, as well as Travis County Brown Santa are still accepting donations.

A hearing is scheduled on Dec. 19.

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