Oneonta Elks Club settles case over misused bequest

Julie Lewis | The Daily Star The Oneonta Elks Lodge on Chestnut Street in Oneonta is shown Tuesday.

A settlement was reached on May 24 between the Oneonta Lodge No. 1312 Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, Inc. (“Oneonta Elks”) and state Attorney General Letitia James over the organization's misuse of charitable assets, according to a media release by James' office. 

Repeated attempts to reach the Oneonta Elks for comment were unsuccessful. Oneonta Elks Treasurer Florence Loomis referred The Daily Star to speak with Mike Donnell, former Oneonta Elks exalted ruler, who did not respond to multiple calls. 

Between February 2009 and December 2014, the Oneonta Elks received more than $480,000 from the estate of a benefactor who specified the money be used to help children, people with disabilities, and the elderly, according to the release. An investigation by James' office revealed the Oneonta Elks spent almost $170,000 of that money to pay for capital improvements to its lodge building and property and cover general operating expenses. 

The issue was brought to the attention of James' office by a former board member who was concerned about how the funds were being used, said a communications adviser for James' office in an email. 

The settlement requires the Oneonta Elks to repay the funds, which they used to pay outstanding real estate taxes, a roofing project and driveway paving at its lodge, according to the release. The Oneonta Elks agreed to turn over all the remaining funds it received from the benefactor's estate to the New York State Elks Association Major Projects Corporation, Inc., a state registered charity that will now administer the trust funds, according to the release. 

The Oneonta Elks will also repay $169,162 to the trust by making an $88,000 lump sum payment, followed by monthly payments until all of money has been returned, according to the release.

“No organization in New York will get away with wrongfully using assets intended for charitable purposes,” James said in the release. “Rather than using these funds to support our vulnerable communities as they were intended, the Oneonta Elks used them for cosmetic improvements to their lodge. We will continue to root out any and all breaches of our charities law.” 

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at 607-441-7221 or skarikehalli@thedailystar.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DS_ShwetaK.