LAFAYETTE — A former chief executive officer of Acadiana Outreach Center has filed suit against her former employer alleging the nonprofit agency kept a company-issued credit card in her name and has since failed to pay off the $30,000 balance accrued on the card, including one charge of $17,000 to a local travel agency.
Valerie G. Keller, who served as the agency’s chief executive officer from 2002 to 2009, alleges in a lawsuit filed earlier this week that she was assured by her successor, Rick Newton, that her name would be removed from the American Express card and that she would be held harmless for any balance after her date of resignation in December 2009.
Despite those expressed assurances, “defendants failed to remove her name, added additional employees and ‘authorized users’ and continued to use the credit card accumulating debt of $31,879.35,” the suit says.
When the card expired in June 2010, a renewal card was issued and activated in Keller’s name, “under which at least ten more charges were made.”
The suit names as defendants the Acadiana Outreach Center and its executive committee, which is composed of Robert E. Giles, David Wilson, Rob Robison, Andree Begneaud and/or Mike Guidroz.
Calls to all five of the board members were not returned on Friday.
Newton was fired by the agency in August 2011 amid financial problems at the nonprofit. Those problems led the agency to sell nine of its properties for $1.3 million to the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority, which also took over AOC’s interest in Joie de Vivre, an urban affordable housing development near downtown.
AOC retained its Lighthouse Shelter for Women and Children.
Keller says in the suit she was promised by board members and by Jill Meaux, who succeeded Newton as the agency’s chief executive, that the debt would be paid in full and the account would be closed after the center sold off most of its assets last year. Although the sale raised more than $1 million, the suit says the payment to the credit card company was not made.
“The failure to pay as promised was intentional and has been to obtain an unjust advantage in Acadiana Outreach’s favor at the expense and loss to the plaintiff,” the suit says.
Meaux also failed to return a call to her office and an email seeking comment Friday.
The suit says the executive committee is the center’s governing body and “knew or should have known that the card was still being used” since all CEO expenses, including use of credit cards, must be approved at the committee level.
AOC defaulted on its obligations to American Express in May 2011, prompting the credit card company to demand payment from Keller through Acadiana Outreach Center, the suit says.
Keller said in the suit that Newton then called her and admitted the charges and circumstances, “stating to her that his poor credit score did not allow him to get a card in his name.”
The suit says that Keller attempted through Newton to get her name taken off the account but the credit card company said it could not and would not cancel the account while the debt was still owed.
The suit further states that AOC failed to make payments that were due in December 2011 and January 2012. The credit card company has since demanded that Keller pay the principal balance of $24,209, the suit says.
The submitted credit card statement shows one payment of $111.86 submitted by Valerie Keller, while $31,767.49 was attributed to charges by Newton.
Among the charges to the card is an April 14, 2011, charge of $17,000 to Associated Travel, a travel agency in Lafayette, according to a May 2011 credit card statement filed with the lawsuit.
The statement also reflects a $235 charge to Orbitz.com, an online travel site; and a $247 charge to Continental Airlines in Mankato, Minn. The passenger name for that flight is listed as Jeannie Newton, according to the credit card statement.
“Petitioner has received no less than several hundred collection type calls and has expended over one hundred hours in correspondence with defendants and AMEX,” the suit says. “These events have no doubt placed her character and credit worthiness in question,” adding that her credit score has dropped due to a “serious delinquency” on her credit record.
Keller’s attorney, Victor J. Versaggi, declined to comment on the case Friday.
Keller is seeking reasonable damages and compensation for the loss of credit capacity, loss of credit expediency and increases out-of-pocket costs, the suit says.
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