In her temporary role as interim president of the Our Lady of the Lake Foundation, Christel Slaughter says she hopes to bring some stability to an organization scandalized earlier this month when its longtime president, John Paul Funes, was accused of allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in foundation funds.
Slaughter, named to the position Nov. 20 but only on the job for the past three days, says she still is getting her feet wet and trying to understand what needs to be done and how best she can help. Unlike Funes—who was the chief fundraiser for the organization and the hospital it supports—Slaughter says she will not be raising any money for the foundation.
Slaughter, who owns and operates well-known consulting firm SSA Consultants with her husband, Bill Slaughter, says she was attracted to the temporary position out of a desire to help the organization get over what is unquestionably the biggest challenge it has ever faced.
“There are so many dedicated staff people, wonderful health care practitioners, great donors and board members here and someone has to help stabilize and make sure everything is going to be OK,” she says.
Slaughter says her team at SSA will handle her other contracts while she is at OLOL, which has retained her on a consulting basis, not as a full-time employee. She declines to disclose how much the contract is worth and has no idea how long it will last.
The local business and philanthropic communities were stunned Nov. 6, when OLOL announced it had fired the high-profile and popular Funes for alleged forgery and embezzlement, crimes he’s acknowledged to hospital officials, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation. Funes has yet to be criminally charged, however, or even interviewed by the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s office, which is conducting the investigation.
Sources familiar with the case say at least $800,000 was stolen over the past year alone.
OLOL has also retained accounting firm Deloitte and Touche to investigate the matter and prepare a complete report.
When that report comes out, Slaughter says she may help implement some of the recommendations and financial safeguards it is likely to recommend but it’s too soon to say.
She also cannot say whether the developments of the past month have hurt the foundation’s fundraising efforts during the critical holiday giving season.
“I honestly don’t know but I plan to start meeting with our major gift people next week to find out and see what they’re hearing,” she says. “But I have gotten a lot of calls and offers of help from other nonprofits and people in the community. Everyone has been very supportive.”