LARGO, FL (WFLA) – Largo police arrested Shirley Lawyer, the former president of the Down Syndrome Network of Tampa Bay, in February on a charge of grand theft. Now volunteers who gave their time and money are wondering when prosecutors are going to bring Lawyer to trial.
“The state is the one who needs to get her in trial and if they convict her at that point we can ask for restitution,” said Ron Girard.
Ron’s grandson Chase is a child with Down Syndrome. He helped raise money for DSNTB and for more than two years he’s asked questions about what happened to the organization’s money. In October 2014, an 8 On Your Side investigation revealed the DSNTB had not filed tax returns for more than 3 years and lost its tax-exempt status.
Lawyer admitted she made a mistake. Our investigation also discovered that she used DSNTB money to pay herself, pay for her daughter’s cheerleading and horseback riding, that she controlled how the organization’s money was spent and that a vice president and treasurer were only “silent partners” of the nonprofit’s operation. Largo PD found even more.
“She was writing checks out to herself; $1,500 checks made out to cash, and then she was putting down attorney’s fees, in the memo,” Girard said. The IRS revoked DSNTB’s tax exempt status in 2013. In April 2014, Lawyer sent an email that stated, “per the IRS no funds may be accepted or disbursed until the status is reinstated.” Checks show that one month later Lawyer continued writing checks on the DSNTB account. Largo PD claims Lawyer paid for her mortgage, her groceries, even took trips with DSNTB money.
“She spent the money because she dug herself a hole, she was using Down Syndrome Network of Tampa Bay for her own personal piggy bank,” Ron added.
Ron, as well as other volunteers and law enforcement, wonder what is taking the Pinellas State Attorney so long to bring Lawyer to trial. The state attorney’s office has not yet responded to our call.
“You have to get the conviction and then at that point go after, see if there is any insurance policy, see if there is anything that we can go after that we can attach,” Ron stated.
In the aftermath of Shirley Lawyer’s arrest, Ron Girard and other volunteers took control of DSNTB’s books and assets. Of the $245,000 donated and raised over the last five years, Ron says only $18,000 is left. He and others are picking up the pieces. They formed a new nonprofit called Raising Down Syndrome Foundation, Inc. to assist parents of children with Down Syndrome in Pinellas County.