Head of Homeless Shelter Spent Funds on Jewels Instead of Food

A shuttered homeless shelter's former director has admitted using more than $23,000 in public money for private real-estate deals and personal luxuries, including jewelry and a trip to Disney World.

Carol Usher pleaded guilty March 18 to misdemeanor petty larceny. The nonprofit organization that ran the Wyandanch shelter, NSM Three Sisters Inc., pleaded guilty to a felony grand larceny charge.

Usher's lawyer, Dan Driscoll, said the problems reflected poor accounting, rather than deliberate misconduct, but his client entered the plea because she wanted to put the case to rest.

She and the organization "profited very little," he said.

Prosecutors disputed that, saying the allegations might represent only a portion of the misspent money.

"We picked out things that were obvious, provable and beyond reasonable doubt," said Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Ming Liu Parsons.

In an earlier audit, County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki found that the shelter organization had misued more than $263,000 in county money in 2001.

Usher and the NSM Three Sisters will get a conditional discharge — meaning that the charges will be dismissed if they stay out of trouble for a certain period — if she pays $23,046 in restitution before her sentencing, set for May 13. If not, she is to be sentenced to three years of probation.

Prosecutors say the fraud included spending about $11,600 on land in Southampton Town, claiming the money went to salaries and repairs, and later selling the parcels for $449,000.

Usher also used the shelter's money to cover a weeklong Disney World trip for herself and a half-dozen relatives, $6,000 worth of her daughters' utility bills, and a Movado watch, Coach bag and other jewelry falsely logged as food expenses, prosecutors said.