Friday, February 23, 2001

AIDS agency's donations seized

Ind. group liable to Fifth Third

The Associated Press and The Cincinnati Enquirer

        INDIANAPOLIS — Fifth Third Bank has seized about $175,000 in donations for people with HIV and AIDS to pay off the debts of AIDServe Indiana, a statewide agency that closed in November.

        The Cincinnati-based bank took the money, which AIDServe raised at its AIDS walk in October, to pay off the organization's credit line, board member Coby Palmer said. AIDServe had deposited the proceeds in an unrestricted account.

        “The bank took the walk money because the loan came due,” Mr. Palmer said.

        He and others are concerned the seizure will hurt future AIDS fund-raisers.

        “I think it's going to be hard for anyone to do an AIDS walk this year,” said Diana Grey, executive director of the Damien Center, a regional AIDS service organization based in Indianapolis. “It's clearly out in the community that AIDS walk money was taken by the bank and did not go to the people it was supposed to go to, and clients have suffered because of that.”

        Stacie Yee, a Fifth Third spokeswoman, confirmed Thursday that the bank had seized AIDServe Indiana assets.

        “It was their default that caused us to do this,” she said. “Over the past 18 months, we worked very closely with AIDServe to address their financial difficulties. We regret this outcome.”

        AIDServe had about 800 to 900 clients and an annual budget of $5 million. It was the only statewide agency serving needy residents with HIV and AIDS.

        AIDServe Director Mark St. John resigned in November after admitting he had mismanaged the agency's funds. A week later, the health department ended its contracts with AIDServe, which had the effect of closing the agency.

        The trouble in Indiana will have little effect in Greater Cincinnati. AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati (AVOC) has no affiliation with AIDServe Indiana and does not receive money from that organization, said Victoria Brooks, executive director at AVOC.

        Ms. Brooks hopes there will be no chilling effect on local donors. “Donations are already down from what we call "donor fatigue,'” she said.

        The $175,000 from the AIDS walk wasn't enough to pay the organization's $400,000 debt to Fifth Third Bank, according to a lawsuit the bank filed earlier this month in Marion County.


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