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updated: 12/19/2012 5:21 AM

FBI: Ex-Naperville nonprofit CEO fled amid theft scandal

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The founder and former CEO of a Naperville children's charity is on the run amid allegations he embezzled more than $200,000 from the agency, according to the FBI.

Robert Geniesse, 50, is accused of funneling the money from Our Children's Homestead, a nonprofit foster-care and adoption agency, to a film company he operated with his wife, Inga Howe. He fled to Frankfurt, Germany five days before he was formally charged in October, according to a federal complaint filed this month.

"Investigators also determined that Geniesse's wife fled to Hamburg, Germany approximately one month before the warrant for Robert Geniesse," FBI Special Agent Mark Wallschlaeger wrote in an affidavit.

Geniesse founded Our Children's Homestead in 1995 and remained chief executive officer until the board of directors fired him in March 2011, sparking a criminal investigation, an agency official said. He later moved to Ormond Beach, Fla., where he lived at the time of his indictment.

Authorities say Geniesse used agency money to produce documentaries for Reverse Momentum Films, a company he launched with a former employee who later married him.

He also has been accused of using an agency credit card for hotel rooms, rental cars and other expenses related to productions in Kenya and the Philippines, according to court records.

Kurt Friedenauer, who replaced Geniesse as CEO last year, said the former executive "shielded" stakeholders from details of the filmmaking operation, and failed to disclose he was sued in 2010 by a former employee who claimed he fired her after she confronted him about it.

Friedenauer said the agency rebounded well and has managed to maintain its daily operations. He credited the board of directors for responding "quickly and appropriately" before the loss could be greater.

"They certainly prevented a much more serious problem," Friedenauer said. "(Geniesse) was headed in a direction where he would have pushed the agency off a fiscal cliff."

Geniesse's film company in 2009 produced at least one movie, "I Am You," about poverty in the Philippines. Both he and his wife, traveled abroad for the project, according to court records. She is not charged with any wrongdoing.

Friedenauer said the agency is audited annually and there was never any indication of financial impropriety.

He said the allegations caught many staff members by surprise.

"Dishonest people can be pretty creative, and staff working in an agency like this just don't have any reason to believe the person running the agency is a thief," Friedenauer said. "It was an unsettling period for staff but, being the professionals they are, they weathered through it and redirected the focus back to our mission. Day by day, we've moved on."

Our Children's Homestead is based in Naperville but also has an office in Rockford. It serves nearly 200 foster children in seven counties and also is a licensed adoption provider.

The attorney general's office will seek to extradite Geniesse to Illinois if he is located, according to court records. If convicted of felony theft over $100,000, he could face up to 15 years in prison.

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