Investigators Probing United Way Pension Practices

August 22, 2002 ( - Federal pension investigators have demanded access to documents dating back in 1999 relating to pension benefits offered by the United Way of the National Capital Area.

The Washington Post reported that the United Way received the demand earlier this month from the US Department of Labor’s Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration (PWBA). The PWBA enforces pension rules. The investigative request does not name any pension recipients.

According to the Post story, the request came less than a week after the disclosure that former chief executive Oral Suer received an estimated $200,000 payment by taking his pension nearly two years before retiring, a step that was not authorized by the pension plan’s rules at the time.

News of the investigation comes as the charity, one of the largest in the region, seeks to assure donors and major employers that ongoing reforms will ensure that donations are well spent.

Questionable Practices

After initially denying significant accounting troubles at the charity, United Way leaders have in recent months acknowledged a string of questionable practices:

  • taken credit for millions of dollars in contributions it never handled
  • withheld from charities more than $1 million it collected for them
  • covered its overhead by deducting as much as 45% from some contributions.

Since then, FBI agents have delivered a grand jury subpoena to the United Way requesting financial records dating to 1997.