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Columbia police investigating local charity worker

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 | 10:55 p.m. CST; updated 3:39 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008
Lana Jacobs

COLUMBIA — Lana Jacobs, a prominent social services worker and peace activist, has left the local St. Francis Catholic Worker Community following questions about tens of thousands of dollars in missing donations from the organization she co-founded, according to members of the charity.

No criminal charges have been filed against Jacobs. She moved to St. Louis Jan. 11, said her husband Steve Jacobs.

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On Wednesday, the Columbia Police Department Major Crimes Unit opened an investigation into a report of embezzlement filed by the charity, said Columbia police Capt. Brad Nelson.

Through an audit, police will determine whether any money is missing, Nelson said.

“It’s going to take a lengthy investigation,” he said.

In a letter dated Jan. 17 and sent out to the media Wednesday, seven members of the St. Francis Catholic Worker Community — its de facto board — apologized to supporters and donors.

“We recently learned that some of your generous financial donations have been used for purposes other than they were intended,” the members said in the letter. “As a result, Lana Jacobs, the person who was in charge of financial matters, and who is solely responsible for the misuse of funds, has left our Catholic Worker Community. She is no longer affiliated with the St. Francis Catholic Worker. These events have left us reeling, because our most visible and trusted community member repeatedly lied and concealed her improper financial activities from us.”

The letter was signed by Lana Jacobs’ estranged husband, Steve Jacobs, Rachael Krall, Jeff Krall, Ruth O’Neill, Missy Parker, Jerry Finkle and Dahne Yeager.

The St. Francis Catholic Worker Community receives about $40,000 a year in donations from churches and private individuals, Steve Jacobs said.

Steve Jacobs said he feels betrayed by his wife. He said they are now separated and that Lana Jacobs is staying with her sister in St. Louis.

When asked if he blames his wife for the organization’s financial troubles, he said, “Yeah, it’s kind of a given.”

“When you’re entrusted with funds for the poor, and they’re not being (used correctly), then our allegiance to the truth has to transcend family ties,” he said.

Reached by telephone Wednesday, Lana Jacobs declined to comment.

“I don’t have anything to say,” she said before hanging up.

In the letter sent out Wednesday, members of the Catholic Workers Community said they discovered in October of 2007 that Lana Jacobs failed to pay monthly utility bills and other expenses. When they confronted her, she said she used the money to help others with rent, utility bills and other assistance, according to the letter.

Later in the month, they barred her access to bank accounts and delegated financial responsibilities to two other members, according to the letter.

“We thought we had gotten a handle on the problem, but were shocked to discover that the improper financial dealings were much more widespread than we believed,” the members stated in the letter. “In late December, we learned that in 2005, without our knowledge or consent, Lana took out a loan using our women’s house as collateral. To obtain this loan, she engaged in fraudulent real estate transactions that made it appear that Lois Bryant House was titled as her private property.”

According to the letter, Lana Jacobs opened other bank accounts and made unauthorized transfers of money between accounts.

As a charitable trust — not a nonprofit organization — the organization is not legally required to disclose financial information to the public, said Ruth O’Neill, who has previously represented Lana Jacobs in court appearances related to her civil disobedience.

O’Neill said the organization’s finances are in disarray and said the group aims to make its records more transparent in the future.

Virginia Bzdek, treasurer for the Interfaith Council of Columbia which shares a building with Loaves and Fishes, used to send paychecks to employees in care of Lana Jacobs. However, she said she began to send the checks to another community member — O’Neill — in October.

“(Lana Jacobs) wasn’t very good at handling finances, so she and Ruth talked and they were both very happy to have Ruth take over from there,” Bzdek said.

In 1983, Lana Jacobs and her husband co-founded the St. Francis Catholic Worker Community, which operates the St. Francis House homeless shelter for men, the Lois Bryant House for homeless women and the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen.

As a political activist, she protested in the form of civil disobedience by digging symbolic graves in front of MU’s ROTC building and crossing a police line to bring a bottle of water to Terry Schiavo, a dying woman who was taken off life support in Florida.

Jacobs is well-known outside of Columbia. Michael Stoops, acting director of the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless, called her a “modern day Dorothy Day,” the former journalist who founded the Catholic Worker Movement in the 1930s in New York.

“When I think of Missouri, I think of Lana,” Stoops said. “She’s just somebody that we can count on in Columbia. … Accusations are one thing. This would have to be proven. Lana has paid her dues, and I have the highest respect for her.”

The organization ascribes to the beliefs of the Catholic Worker Movement but operates independently of any other organization, Steve Jacobs said. According to catholicworker.org, there are currently over 185 Catholic Worker communities.

“We are deeply sorry to have broken faith with you by failing to oversee Lana’s handling of our finances,” the group said in its letter. “We will work hard to restore your faith in us; we pray we are up to the challenge.”

Jonathan Randles of the Missourian staff contributed to this report.


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