Nonprofit responds after employee accused of stealing funds meant to help homeless youth

A day after its former employee was charged with misusing money meant for young people at risk of homelessness, a St. Paul nonprofit is providing a timeline of events explaining the internal investigation it conducted that led to the criminal investigation.

Face to Face helps Ramsey County youth aged 11 to 24 who are experiencing homelessness with needs like rent and medical care. The nonprofit released a statement Wednesday evening in which it calls itself a "victim of fraud."

"Face to Face has been able to minimize the impact of this alleged criminal act on the young people we serve. The organization’s Leadership Team and Board of Directors immediately evaluated and implemented additional process improvements," the statement read in part.

Leaders at Face to Face say in 2021, their internal safeguards led them to suspect rental assistance fraud, so they hired a forensic accounting and private investigation firm to investigate further. Nonprofit leaders said there was evidence of fraudulent activities related to rent subsidies, gift cards, and credit cards, so they turned the information over to St. Paul Police Department.

Court documents from Tuesday show the former manager of youth homeless programs, 50-year-old Charlita Williamson-Prokop from St. Paul, has been charged with nine counts of felony theft by swindle. She was hired and terminated from the nonprofit in 2021.

Police focused their investigation on people who received payments from Face to Face as fake landlords. Officers discovered the fake landlords benefited from the scheme, along with Williamson and other nonprofit employees, according to charging documents.

Ramsey County prosecutors said Williamson hired family and friends to act as case managers to help her get away with fraud. For example, Williamson hired her sister, while two of her brothers-in-law posed as landlords and two of her nephews were listed as clients at risk of homelessness. Police say Williamson also used rental assistance payments to pay for an apartment where she, in fact, lived, while listing her great niece as the fake client who lived there.

In their statement Wednesday, Face to Face leaders said they are fully cooperating with the investigation against Williamson. They said every employee involved in the alleged fraudulent scheme was terminated in 2021 and noted that the nonprofit had followed all hiring protocols, including background checks and references.

The nonprofit said, "Despite such a difficult experience for all involved," the alleged fraud has not disrupted its rental assistance program, and Face to Face has continued to grow and meet youth needs.

The statement continued: "Face to Face reported the incident to stakeholders and funders whose funds were impacted by the fraud. The Office of Legislative Auditors confirmed all reporting and follow-up procedures were done appropriately. They also reviewed the financial controls in place and recent updates to those controls after the fraud. The auditors were satisfied with the process followed and the financial controls in place. Face to Face was reimbursed by its liability insurance company for the resources embezzled and funders were repaid."

Face to Face’s website says it served more than 2,500 youth last year and connected with an additional 5,500 youth through its health education outreach. More than 85 percent of the young people it serves are people of color, and 17 percent identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community.