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Missing donation from charity raises questions

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
April 24, 2012
— In the wake of an investigation over a missing cash donation, the president of Edgerton's Gifts for Kids is accused of lying to a detective, and questions have arisen over how the longtime holiday charity group handles its donations.

Stephanie Balis, 43, of 114 E. Cox Road, Edgerton, was charged in Rock County Court on Monday with obstructing an officer during a Rock County Sheriff's Office investigation of a missing $700 cash donation to Gifts for Kids in December 2011.


Gifts for Kids is a nonprofit group that collects holiday gifts and donations and distributes them to families experiencing financial hardship.


Balis, who is an administrative assistant at the Edgerton Police Department, has been on paid administrative leave since her March 22 arrest, City Administrator Ramona Flanigan said.


According to sheriff's reports, Balis lied to Detective Brian Meister, telling him she'd made multiple phone calls to try to recover a holiday cash donation Balis said she gave away to a woman who she later learned was not eligible for the Gifts for Kids program.


Balis claimed the recipient came in the Edgerton Police Department to sign up for the donation for her son, a student in the Edgerton School District.


The donation form is signed by Balis and dated Dec. 16, 2011.


Balis said she'd later agreed to give the woman an envelope that donor Melanie Simmons of Edgerton said in a complaint had $700 in cash plus gift cards and an offer for UW-Madison hockey tickets, according to reports.


Balis said she arranged to give the woman the envelope in the parking lot of Edgerton Outreach, a local social service agency, even though she


hadn't had time to do a full background search on


the woman, according to reports.


Balis said days later, Simmons began calling her repeatedly to get the woman's contact information because the woman had not responded about the hockey tickets.


During the conversations, Simmons told Balis she'd learned the woman's address was not in Edgerton and that Edgerton Schools had no record of the woman's son. That meant the woman was not eligible to get donations, according to reports.


Balis claimed she called the woman multiple times from the police department, and that the woman finally called her back and offered to return the donation. Later, Balis claimed, the gift cards, but no money, showed up in the drop box at the police department, according to reports.


Simmons told The Gazette she's a longtime donor to Gifts for Kids. It was the first time she gave the organization cash.


She got suspicious when Balis wouldn't give her straight answers about where to send hockey vouchers, and then Balis gave her back the gift cards. That's when she called the sheriff's office.


Phone records at the Edgerton Police Department and at Balis' home revealed no calls to or from the number listed for the woman on the donation registration form, according to reports.


The registered owner of the phone number told detectives he'd never heard of the woman, Stephanie Balis or Gifts For Kids, the investigation revealed.


Balis later admitted to investigators she lied about making follow-up phone calls to the woman. Balis maintains she gave Simmons' donation to the woman. She said the woman returned the gift cards before Simmons began checking up on the donation.


Balis said she lied because she was embarrassed that she allowed someone to take advantage of Gifts for Kids, and she wanted to get Simmons off her back.


The Gifts for Kids' board released a statement Monday that it has since "reviewed and secured all funds for the organization, which has been verified by our accountant, tax preparer and the bank."


Simmons said Gifts for Kids has reimbursed her.


Blaine Larson, who is an Edgerton police officer, Town of Fulton Police Chief, and a Gifts for Kids board member, said Gifts for Kids has not asked Balis to step down.


Larson said he would not comment on the investigation because he works with Balis.


Gifts for Kids has run since 1989 and serves dozens of Edgerton families, Larson said. Balis normally is in charge of collecting donations, but that Gifts for Kids usually has potential recipients sign up at Edgerton Outreach, which helps the group screen applicants to verify financial need.


The group seldom receives cash donations, Larson said. Normally, it gets gifts donated and uses vouchers or a lottery system to parse them out. Gifts for Kids now is reaching out to other nonprofits to learn how to better handle its donations.


Healthy nonprofits should split operations between those who collect donations and those who vet potential recipients and distribute donations, said Edgerton Outreach Director Sarah Williams.


In this case, Balis did all three.


Simmons said she was conflicted about blowing the whistle over her missing donation, but she wanted to make sure people who need help get served.



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