HSEP executive director accused of swindling $700K from Ohio citizens

    Luke Westerman and KFOX14 Investigative reporter Genevieve Curtis

    KFOX14 Investigates obtained the court documents that detail the indictment filed against Luke Westerman, the executive director of the Humane Society of El Paso.

    The paperwork accuses him of ripping off 10 Ohio citizens to the tune of $700,000 over the last eight years.

    This comes after authorities in Ohio issued a warrant for his arrest. On Dec. 27, 2018, a grand jury in Ohio indicted Westerman on 19 felony counts of fraud and theft.

    Westerman previously worked in finance and started a venture capital firm in Columbus, Ohio.

    On Friday, Franklin County prosecutor Ron O’Brien explained the charges by saying between December 2010 and the present, Westerman allegedly “solicited over $700,000 from 10 Ohio citizens for investment purposes, later misrepresented the status of the purported investments in false account statements and used some funds for personal purposes rather than the expressed investment purpose. The cash withdrawals and use for personal expenses from investment funds exceeded $300,000.”

    Two of the charges listed in the indictment are for grand theft. One of the charges is theft from an elderly person. Westerman is accused of stealing from a person in a “protected class” where the amount was at least $7,500.

    The most severe charges against Westerman carry a prison sentence of three to 11 years.

    The Ohio Department of Commerce, the agency which investigated Westerman, regulates financial advisers and those who sell investment products and oversees state licenses.

    A majority of Westerman’s charges include securities fraud. Securities can include any type of investment product, such as stocks, mutual funds and individual retirement accounts.

    Two of Westerman’s charges stem from accusations he used funds from an IRA for personal use.

    On Friday afternoon, the board for the Humane Society of El Paso released the following statement:

    Our initial investigation yields no evidence that Mr. Westerman, acting in his official capacity, has in any way compromised the financial integrity the Humane Society of El Paso. The Board has given Mr. Westerman time to deal with his personal legal matters. Our staff continues to work hard toward our mission and purpose of building a better community for all animals through adoptions, education, foster-care, volunteer work and community events. Our shelter animals remain our main focus and we ask the community to keep the best interest of our animals in mind.

    Former HSEP board members, Leticia Jimenez, Cori A. Harbour-Valdez and Maria Schneider, who resigned in November sent the following statement Friday. They claim they resigned when the HSEP board refused to take action regarding Luke Westerman's past legal issues.

    We write in response to the recent news about Mr. Westerman’s legal issues and inquiries from the media about our departure from the Humane Society Board of Directors. Please note that we have sent this letter to local media outlets and this will be our final word on the issues discussed below. It is our sincere hope that the Humane Society will be able to move past this difficult time and continue to lead what we consider to be a very important institution with a vital mission. We feel deeply saddened for the Humane Society employees and the animals it serves. We raised concerns with the Board months ago regarding Mr. Westerman, when we first learned about some of his legal issues. It was our hope that we could objectively review the information before us, consider the options available to the Humane Society, and then take whatever path was most likely to lead to the best outcome for the shelter. Unfortunately, the Board did not wish to take further action. We worried that the Board was acting contrary to the best interest of the Humane Society. The only sensible reaction consistent with our support of the Humane Society and its mission was to immediately resign and make clear our individual reasons for doing so. We are pained by the impact this issue will have on the organization. It is even tougher knowing that the Board received fair warning months ago and any damage to the Humane Society could have been mitigated. Because the local media has discussed our resignation, we felt it was necessary to respond. This will be our last word on the subject because we worry that continuing to focus on what happened instead of how to move forward is bad for the shelter. It is our sincere hope that the El Paso community continues to support the Humane Society of El Paso. The employees are hardworking individuals dedicated to serving all of the animals in our community and they will continue to do so. Bad decisions of a few should not affect the organization as a whole and its important mission in our community.

    KFOX14 Investigates also obtained federal financial records from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which show Westerman was stripped of his broker’s license in 2010 for “failure to comply with an arbitration award or settlement agreement or to satisfactorily respond to a FINRA request to provide information concerning the status of compliance.”

    FINRA is a nonprofit authorized by Congress to protect investors and ensure the broker-dealer industry operates fairly and honestly.

    The courts in Franklin County, Ohio, ordered Westerman to repay Ameriprise nearly $200,000. Current court records show he still has not paid the judgment against him. KFOX14 asked Westerman about that in December.

    “Courts also rule a lot of other things that were dishonest and unethical. I’m mostly focused on what’s doing is right, reliable and ethical and less concerned about pleasing these bigger organizations,” said Westerman.

    He also previously settled claims against him in which his clients accused him of forging their signatures on mutual funds.

    In the December interview with KFOX14 Investigates, Westerman denied the settlement, even though it was listed in a public record.

    As of Friday, Westerman was not at the Humane Society of El Paso and had not turned himself in to authorities.

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