President of non-profit delivers statement in Lori Isenberg case

President of non-profit delivers statement in Lori Isenberg case
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On Tuesday, Lori Isenberg was sentenced to 5 years for stealing more than $500,000 from the North Idaho Housing Coalition while she was working there.

Kerri Thoreson, the President of the North Idaho Housing Coalition, delivered a statement in court about the situation:

I’m board president of the North Idaho Housing Coalition, having volunteered on the board since 2008. Lori Isenberg was the paid Executive Director for all of those years.

Since January 24, 2018 when I called the board into an executive session to discuss what at the time appeared to be careless bookkeeping by Ms. Isenberg, the world as I once knew it has changed dramatically.

White collar crime is not victimless. There are real people left in the wake of Lori Isenberg’s cold and calculated criminal actions, many of them here in the courtroom today because they care about the outcome. For the past 15 months our non-profit organization has been sidelined from our mission of assisting the working poor in attaining the dream of home ownership. We provided jobs to small local construction trades through subcontracting to rehabilitate the homes we purchased. Since 2008, 127 houses, many of which were distressed foreclosures, were restored and sold to those in the workforce who struggled to make the leap to home ownership. In turn, neighborhoods were elevated and houses became homes.

The coalition may not survive the enormous betrayal of the person we entrusted to oversee our programs … an Executive Director who was compensated approximately $70,000 annually and who for each of the last two years of her employment received a $5,000 year-end bonus.

We as a community, as an organization and myself personally trusted Lori Isenberg. We, as a volunteer board with a contracted CPA firm, have been questioned publicly for the perceived failure to detect the theft and embezzlement of Lori Isenberg’s very sophisticated scheme sooner than we did. Her criminal actions have rippled through the community, through our organization and our relationship with state and federal agencies.

This was not someone writing a bad check or stealing out of a cookie jar, this was the calculated and premeditated intent to create fake companies, submit fraudulent invoices, engage her adult children as co-conspirators, and who could pretend to the board that employed her that she was a passionate advocate of our mission. All the while knowing she was stealing money from us and from the state and federal agencies committed to providing housing for those who struggled.

Since January 24, 2018, along with our board vice-president Amy Evans, I have spent hundreds of volunteer hours in service to keeping the organization afloat and viable. I have spent countless hours with law enforcement, with attorneys, with accountants and with the low income tenants of our twenty Section 8 rental properties to assure them they would not be losing the roof over their heads.
For months until we hired an interim director, I was the contact through my personal cell number for the tenants, 24/7. These tenants are real people, people who for the most part are without a safety net to secure alternate housing. I felt a responsibility to reach out and be available on a very human level while the coalition was dealing with the upheaval caused by Lori’s criminal actions.

I have experienced much guilt over not somehow knowing that Lori Isenberg was not who she said she was or who any of us thought she was. Her criminal actions have had a profound affect on my personal and professional life.

I was in the state district courtroom twice when she failed to appear, experiencing more sleepless nights when she jumped bail and became a fugitive from justice, feeling unsafe and fearful in my normal day-to-day life.

I would sincerely hope that Lori Isenberg is not free to walk among the good people of our community for some time. She has forfeited that privilege by her actions.

Restitution should not replace the consequence of serving time in prison for committing these crimes. A thief returning to the rightful owner what was stolen is not a noble act deserving of reward.

If Lori were to serve fewer than 5 years in prison it would not serve justice. It would not recognize the price paid by innocent people, including some of her own family, who suffered for her actions.

The sentence should serve as a cautionary tale or deterrent to others who are entrusted to oversee or who volunteer with the nearly two hundred 501c3 non-profit organizations in Kootenai County, should they consider a similar criminal betrayal of trust.

It is my hope that the court sees fit to hand down a sentence that would cause Lori Isenberg, without question, to know that the legal system acknowledges the damage she has inflicted on so many people.

Isenberg pleaded guilty in January to three counts of wire fraud and one count of federal program theft.

In addition to her 5 year sentence, she was also ordered to pay a $20,000 fine.

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