The foundation that runs — and accepts donations for — the online encyclopedia Wikipedia neglected to do a basic background check before hiring a chief operating officer who had been convicted of theft, drunken driving and fleeing a car accident.
Before she left in July, Carolyn Bothwell Doran, 45, had moved up from a part-time bookkeeper for the Wikimedia Foundation and spent six months as chief operating officer, responsible for personnel and financial management.
In March, she signed the small nonprofit's tax return, which listed more than $1.3 million in donations.
At the time, she was on probation for a 2004 hit-and-run accident in Virginia that had landed her seven months in prison.
Doran had multiple drunken-driving convictions, and records show earlier run-ins for theft, writing bad checks and wounding her boyfriend with a gunshot to the chest.
The revelation comes as the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the volunteer-written Wikipedia and its sister Web encyclopedias in other languages, is staging a fundraising drive and trying to expand beyond a ragtag startup.
"This is indicative of poor management of the Wikimedia Foundation," said Charles Ainsworth, a frequent Wikipedia contributor.
Ainsworth said he had been considering donating to support the encyclopedia, but won't "unless they clearly get things fixed."
The foundation said it had no indication Doran did anything improper with donors' money. However, the organization's most recent audit is incomplete, despite a goal of completing it months ago.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who is on Wikimedia's board, said he did not expect to find anything amiss but would personally cover any losses that turned up.
"We are very saddened and hurt by these shocking revelations," Wales wrote in a message to the Wikipedia community. "Of course we are doing soul-searching about what we could have done different."
Doran's background was reported first in The Register, a London-based technology Web site. The Associated Press independently examined Doran's record.
On May 20, while she was still with Wikimedia in St. Petersburg, Fla., police arrested Doran for another DUI and driving with a suspended license. She was released on bond that day.
In August, a month after she left Wikimedia, she was arrested for violating probation on the 2004 hit-and-run. She was extradited to Virginia and has been jailed there.
Her attorney did not return messages seeking comment.
Wikimedia leaders said they knew nothing of her past until the Register story broke last week.
She had been sent by a temporary agency in 2006 and worked part time as Wikimedia's bookkeeper. Soon after, Wikimedia's board voted 6-1 to promote her to chief operating officer.
Even partial details she shared in the office hinted at a complex tale.
Danny Wool, a former Wikimedia staffer who described Doran as personable, stylish and funny, recalled that she revealed being the daughter of a CIA official.
That is supported by a 1992 Washington Post obituary on the CIA's James Bothwell, listing daughter Carolyn Bothwell as a survivor.
Doran also had a picture on her desk of her late husband — intelligence officer Sean Doran, a former CIA employee and Air Force major who drowned on their honeymoon in the Cayman Islands in 1999.
There had been other trouble she didn't talk about, such as the 1989 shooting of her then-boyfriend, the father of her son. Bothwell allegedly had been beaten by the boyfriend and received probation after he asked that the case be dropped.
Bothwell also popped up in 1995, when a former roommate was accused of poisoning a man for insurance money. Bothwell worked with investigators to secretly record incriminating conversations with the ex-roommate.
Defense attorneys countered that she helped authorities so she could win leniency in a pending credit-card forgery case.
Even when Doran was originally appointed chief operating officer, the post was considered temporary, until Wikimedia found a new executive director.
The foundation, which is moving from Florida to San Francisco, has been growing from just a handful of employees as it tries to solidify its operations.
Because of that development and not because of Doran, Wikimedia now is working with a background checking agency, said Mike Godwin, who recently joined the foundation as general counsel.
So far, the project's core supporters appear forgiving.
Philip Greenspun, a computer scientist who recently gave the foundation $20,000, said he wasn't surprised the foundation would stumble on a background check, something that "isn't core to their mission."
"I would be more dismayed," he said, "by a lengthy server outage."