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AG Goes After Upper Valley Non-Profit For Financial Mismanagement

A non-profit agency that provides settings for supervised parental visits with children whose families are in distress is being accused of financial mismanagement by the Vermont Attorney General. The agency, Emerge, monitors family visits at facilities in White River Junction and Bellows Falls, Vermont, and in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Most families are charged between $10 and $30 an hour for these visits, depending on their income. Domestic abuse victims need not pay fees. Emerge receives the bulk of its funding in the form of grants from New Hampshire and Vermont.

The AG’s Office filed a petition this week in Windsor Country Court alleging that the Board of Directors of Emerge has exercised “virtually  no oversight of the expenditure of charitable funds.” The petition to remove the Board and appoint a special trustee also charges that the Executive Director, Raymona Russell, has been writing paychecks to herself on an “irregular and inconsistent basis,” paying herself $5000 to $10,000 more than her board-approved salary. VPR's calls to Russell at the Emerge office had not been returned Wednesday morning.

According to the Attorney General, Emerge has not been properly audited since its inception in 1996. “This failure threatens Emerge’s mission and has put its current funding in serious jeopardy,” the petition claims. The AG is also requesting an injunction to halt Emerge’s operations until a special trustee can review finances.

According to the website for the Vermont Coalition of Supervised Visitation Programs, Emerge served 163 families with 272 children, providing 912 supervised visits in 2011. If the injunction is granted, the Director of The Haven, a multi-service non-profit serving low income families in White River Junction, has agreed to help reach out to other regional social service agencies to fill any gaps in service for families that might be created while Emerge is not allowed to operate.