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Penrod Society sues ex-treasurer for $380,000

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The Penrod Society has filed a lawsuit against former treasurer Brandon Benker, seeking to recover more than $380,000 it alleges he embezzled last year.

The society is a group of professional men who organize the annual Penrod Arts Fair, a fund-raiser that draws about 25,000 people to the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art each September.

The lawsuit, filed late last week, alleges that Benker "embezzled and converted for his own use" $381,742 from the not-for-profit group between Feb. 29 and Nov. 12, 2008.

The Penrod Society publicly accused Benker of theft late last year. He has not been charged criminally, but an investigation is active, according to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. 

No one answered the phone this morning at Benker's most recently listed address.

The suit says Benker was one of four people who counted money at the end of the event, and was the sole person responsible for making the deposit at the National Bank of Indianapolis. The suit alleges he didn't deposit some of the money and walked away with $83,000.

"He was the person on site, he was the go-to," said Peter French, an attorney who filed the lawsuit last week on the society's behalf. French is also on Penrod's board of directors.

The rest of embezzled funds were withdrawn from Penrod's accounts, the suit alleges. French said much of the money was in certificates of deposit.

Benker was a junior accountant at Indianapolis-based Somerset CPAs when he joined the society. In 2008, he served as an "assistant treasurer," French said. The person in the treasurer's post was also an accountant at Somerset, but society members have said that person was not involved in the theft.
 
Penrod members didn't realize their account had been wiped out until Benker's attorney, local criminal defender Jim Voyles, contacted them last November.

French said the society gave investigators a detailed spreadsheet of transactions on Penrod accounts, and hoped criminal charges soon would follow.

IMPD spokesman Lt. Jeff Duhamell said a financial crimes detective has met with prosecutors and continues to work on the case.

"He had to serve subpoenas in an outside jurisdiction," he explained as part of the reason for the delay.

French said the Penrod members want to try to recover their money, which is distributed each year for scholarships and arts grants, regardless of what happens with the criminal case.

"The prosecutors' office will have a different mission," French said. "Ours is to regain the public trust."

French said Penrod has reformed its board of directors, amended its by-laws and instituted stronger financial controls. This year's fair will be Sept. 12.

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