Shelter Skelter

The Open Door is supposed to be a haven for battered women. Instead, the operators have wasted much of their energy--and money--abusing one another.

And the same month of the indictments, Ramsay resigned from The Open Door Shelter's board of directors. She later pleaded guilty to a single count of filing false documents and served nine months' probation.

Laswell-Daniels began fund raising in 1986, although The Open Door didn't actually open its doors until October 1987, in a fourplex near 16th Street and Brill.

From the beginning, the money flowed into The Open Door. Laswell-Daniels was an expert at telemarketing. In 1987, the shelter raised $327,000, according to IRS documents; in 1988, the figure climbed to $403,000.

And all along, the shelter never accommodated more than six women and 12 children.

Laswell-Daniels soon decided to expand and chose San Diego as another location. But the San Diego directors tried to take over the shelter, then skipped town when Laswell-Daniels sued. She says she lost $30,000 in legal fees and startup costs.

Even though the shelter's cash flow appears to have been enough to accommodate such expenses, Laswell-Daniels says she paid the San Diego debts with her personal credit card, then reimbursed herself from Open Door funds over the years.

None of this was documented, she admits. And when Evelyn Henke joined the shelter staff as a bookkeeper in 1991, Laswell-Daniels failed to mention that the shelter owed her money.

"[Evelyn] knew money was being paid back for credit cards. She didn't know what it was for," Laswell-Daniels says. She says she also used her credit card to make payroll for six to eight weeks at one point; this was never documented, either.

Laswell-Daniels recalls, "I would go to the bank, get money on my credit card, put money in The Open Door Shelter['s] checking account, and that's how I would make payroll."

The concept of generally accepted accounting procedures was not familiar to shelter administration.

Henke admits that if the shelter's finances "ever came under an auditor or an IRS check, then we'd have a lot of explaining to do. . . . I can see where [the shelter] got into deep doo-doo just by not documenting."

Laswell-Daniels says she lent the shelter $15,000 in 1986. She has a signed note. But when she decided to repay herself $10,000 last year from the shelter's savings account, she didn't bother to tell anyone on the board or her bookkeeper, Henke, who discovered it when the books didn't balance.

Laswell-Daniels says she's owed an additional $5,000. So she's keeping the shelter's 1988 Chevrolet truck--which was purchased in her name and paid for with shelter funds--as collateral. She already has a 1988 Chevrolet Beretta which was partly paid for by the shelter. The title is in her name.

She says, "The Beretta is in my possession. I have always used it. . . . I do not feel that I owe the shelter that car."

She says she purchased the vehicles in her name because the shelter couldn't get credit. "The credit and everything with the shelter was yucky-poo," she says.

Laswell-Daniels was accused last year of taking a donation check for $40,000. She took the check, she admits, but only for safekeeping. She returned it after she was confronted by board members.

She says, "I never wanted to take that money. Jesus Christ, I have to look at me every morning."

In 1994, Laswell-Daniels wrote about $8,500 in Open Door checks to various credit-card companies. She and Henke admit that there is no record of what was purchased; the checks were simply recorded as "services." All of the checks were signed by Laswell-Daniels herself.

Last December, Henke and Laswell-Daniels wrote bonus checks to staff members--including $2,000 each to Laswell-Daniels and her husband (he worked in the thrift store) and $1,000 to Henke. The bonuses were logged as "educational" expenses.

Laswell-Daniels says the board of directors didn't have to approve such expenses. Apparently, it didn't approve much of anything.

Stevie King, who served on the board from about 1990 to 1995, admits she was not very active. Until last year, the board only met once a year. She doesn't recall seeing any financial information, or asking for it. She says, "If there were financial statements, I didn't look at them real closely. As long as we were not in the [red], I was happy."

Dennis Stroble, who served on the board in 1994, says, "They would show us the financial reports, but, to be quite honest with you, I didn't understand them. . . . They didn't have enough information on them to see anything."

Stroble says he spoke with Henke, "but, you know, I'm not an accountant and I never really understood the figures that well."

Celeste Howard, who joined the board in 1990, says, "Lola ran things. She would have an agenda . . . and she would pretty much tell us what she wanted us to know and it would sound okay."

But Howard became concerned in late 1993, when staff turnover increased. Howard says she heard that crisis shelters weren't referring clients to The Open Door because "they had been hearing that things were not pleasant to live there."

The board began to meet monthly, but Howard resigned in the fall because Laswell-Daniels would not accept her input, she says.

By 1994, few crisis shelters in the Valley were referring clients to The Open Door, says Terri Hanson, executive director of the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Hanson says counselors at the crisis shelters "felt that it was not the most nurturing environment." She refused to elaborate.

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1 comments
Annniekapplermalatesta
Annniekapplermalatesta

Lola real names are Lazwell, Caraffa, Daniels and another name that is Mexican. She is a pathological liar. Most everything I got donated for auction from Ortega's in Scottsdale, Az. (Like KACHINAS) that are in her china cabinet. including furniture and kitchen items. She was married to Al Caraffa and lived in Phoenix. She had filed for divorce and was having divorce papers served on him, but called the atty. to stop the paper as she was meeting him for dinner and he was electrocted in her house. She took everything that was worth money. She and her next husband. Mr. James Daniels. She is a bully and no one liked her. Now, she goes to church every day and helps serve mass. Mr. James Daniels son does not know how many marriages she has had..I asked her to see the financials and she said no. That was the last day I worked for her.

 
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