Longform

Shelter Skelter

Page 5 of 7

Sheryl Burdick has saved one of the thrift store's "in-kind" receipts, which are given to people who donate items to the thrift store. This particular receipt is for a bag of clothing valued at $100. Burdick says Rounding took the entire bag, and that both she and her daughter, Christina, watched her.

"My daughter was like, 'Mom, does she do that all the time?'" Burdick recalls.
Burdick signed the receipt, and at the bottom wrote: "A bag of clothing for Audrey only. Witness is a 11 yr old girl." Christina signed the paper.

Rounding says the board voted April 27 to give her a salary of $25,000 a year, retroactive to February 1 and to increase to $30,000 after six months. Plus a car allowance of $300 a month. Shelter checks--some of which were signed by Rounding--were written for the full amount she says she was owed.

There is no record of a salary being approved in the minutes from the April 27 board meeting.

Ashford admits a salary was discussed, but says, "It was never consummated. There were never any minutes written up. There was never any agreement."

Smidt and Goff say they both recall that a salary was approved, but don't remember details.

In June, Rounding fired Susan White, a fund-raising employee who had been with the shelter since 1988. Lorna Harvey, another longtime employee, also left. Both have since filed wrongful termination suits against the shelter. Although each woman initially made claims for about $1,500 each, the shelter has already forked over about $6,000 in attorney fees.

Jan Ashford resigned from the board July 1, but on July 6 she showed up at the shelter with a letter signed by herself, White, Harvey and three other former or current shelter employees. The letter called for Rounding's immediate resignation. White and Harvey say Ashford told them they would run the shelter until a permanent director could be found.

Rounding called Janice Goldstein for help.
Janice Goldstein is executive director of the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association. As of last May, she'd never volunteered for a nonprofit, but her son was going off to college and she thought she'd fill some empty hours. She'd received an Open Door flier in the mail, so she offered to baby-sit. Like anyone else who exhibited the slightest interest in the shelter, Goldstein was on the board of directors within weeks.

Rounding says, "I thought if we could get Janice to come on the board of directors . . . that we would be the cleanest shelter in Maricopa County and never do anything wrong because we would have 5,000 attorneys!"

From the beginning, Goldstein had questions about the shelter. The first time she showed up to baby-sit, the place was chaotic--she was put in charge of six kids, ages 14 months to 8 years old. And when Goldstein got some circus tickets donated, Rounding refused to let the mothers attend, even though there were extra tickets. She and Goldstein took the children to the circus themselves.

"It struck me as sad, because I thought this would have been a nice thing for the mothers to do with their children," Goldstein says.

Goldstein stopped by the shelter on the day of Ashford's attempted takeover. She calmed Rounding, told her not to worry.

"I never saw her again," Rounding says wistfully.
Rounding had taken Goldstein's advice, and hired Marcia Cech-Soucy to straighten out the shelter's books.

"[Cech-Soucy] came so highly recommended by Janice that I thought she would be our savior," Rounding says.

Marcia Cech-Soucy's got a mouth on her that would make Roseanne blush. She marches across her living room to grab the goddamn phone, the fly of her jeans unzipped beneath a stretched-out white tee shirt, lank red hair hanging in her face. She looks and acts like a co-ed pulling an all-nighter before a midterm, but Cech-Soucy is 43, the mother of two adult sons and a political consultant by trade. Cech-Soucy never had the urge to be around battered women. She's a former victim, and would rather not be reminded of it. But it was a nonelection year and her savings were gone when she was asked to keep books for the shelter for two hours a day, at $8.50 an hour. It was better than temping.

Besides, she was intrigued by the possibility of uncovering wrongdoing. Cech-Soucy recalls, "Janice [Goldstein] said, 'You know, I'm just uncomfortable and I just can't put my finger on what's wrong here.'" Cech-Soucy agreed to infiltrate.

At first, Cech-Soucy says, it wasn't so bad. "[Rounding] didn't sound particularly wacko. She just said she had recently taken over as the board president and executive director and there was just a lot of confusion there."

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.