Charges: Minneapolis woman swindles nonprofit for 2nd time

A Minneapolis woman is facing charges for stealing more than $80,000 of public funds through the nonprofit she worked at after having already been convicted of running a similar scheme at a previous employer. 

Cynthia Waight, 54, is charged with one count each of identity theft and theft by swindle. 

According to the charges, from October 2015 through January 2017, Waight used an elaborate scheme to steal from the Crisis Housing Fund, a Minnesota Housing Partnership program that provides people with mental illness with funds to pay their rent or mortgage and utilities so they can keep their housing while receiving treatment. Nonprofits submit applications for the funds on behalf of their clients.

Vicky Couillard, the Executive Director of Vail Place, said that in 30 years with the nonprofit, nothing like this alleged scheme and violation of trust has ever occurred.

“This is heartbreaking. We’re here to help people,” she said. “We’re their link to the community. This is critical funding, so we did everything we could to stop her in her tracks.” 

In July 2014, Waight was hired as the housing manager at Vail Place, a community resource center in Hopkins for adults with serious mental illnesses. As part of her job, Waight managed Vail Place’s work with the Crisis Housing Fund.

The charges allege Waight submitted fraudulent applications to the Crisis Housing Fund using the identities of real Vail Place clients and claiming they needed housing support. 

Once Vail Place received the funds, Waight would write checks to cash and place memo line entries on the check, claiming the money went to support a client’s housing needs. If questioned by other Vail Place employees about the checks written to cash, she would reportedly lie about where the money went. 

An investigation found from October 2015 to January 2017, Waight obtained $81,901.02 from the Crisis Housing Fund by writing checks out to cash. Casino records show, during the same period, Waight had gambled more than $1.6 million and lost nearly $100,000. 

At the time Waight allegedly committed the thefts at Vail Place, she was also being investigated for a similar set of thefts from a former employer. Waight’s prior theft surfaced too late to show up on her Vail Place pre-employment background check.

In May 2016, Waight was charged with two counts of theft by swindle for acts she committed while working for Resource Inc., a nonprofit that helps underserved populations. She pleaded guilty to one of the counts and was convicted. She was sentenced to 60 days in the Hennepin County Workhouse. 

Waight was arrested for the latest set of charges on March 1, but has since been released.

“I don’t care if you have a gambling problem or not. This is money that we put together to provide for resources for people in real need of them. To rip that off, I hope she has a conscience and I hope it bothers her,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.