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Former director of Southwest Colorado nonprofit suspected of embezzlement

Ashley Hein allegedly spent more than $21,000 on personal items

The former director of a Durango-based nonprofit that helps abused and at-risk children across Southwest Colorado is suspected of embezzling more than $21,000 from the organization.

Ashley Hein, 42, of Durango, used the nonprofit’s funds to purchase personal items at grocery stores, gas stations, clothing stores, liquor stores, smoke shops, marijuana dispensaries and adult-content stores, according to an arrest affidavit.

The alleged thefts occurred between August 2018 and April 2022, during her tenure as director of 4 the Children, an umbrella organization for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program, the Safe Exchange and Supervised Visitation program and the Child Advocacy Center.

The nonprofit, located at 129 East Animas Road (County Road 250) just north of Durango city limits, serves children who have experienced abuse, neglect and family trauma in La Plata, Montezuma, Archuleta, Dolores and San Juan counties.

The nonprofit receives a large chunk of its funding from government grants, none of which allow funds to be used for an employee’s personal gain, according to the affidavit.

In an interview with law enforcement, Hein acknowledged the nonprofit’s debit cards were assigned to her and no one else ever used the cards, according to the affidavit.

Hein said she never intended for her personal spending to go as far as it did, but it snowballed over time. According to the affidavit, she said she was stressed out at the time, and she used the nonprofit’s accounts to buy herself a bottle of wine or lunch on occasion – believing she had the board’s blessing.

Hein has been served a summons and complaint on suspicion of theft, cybercrime and embezzlement, all felonies, and official misconduct, a misdemeanor, according to an arrest affidavit.

As director of 4 the Children, Hein reported directly to the board of directors and had direct control of the nonprofit’s budget and finances, according to the affidavit. After her departure on April 15, 2022, a certified public accountant began assisting the nonprofit with its finances.

That is when the unusual spending habits surfaced.

The CPA, along with the new director and a program director, identified numerous transactions they believed to be personal spending as opposed to charges directly associated with the nonprofit, according to the affidavit.

The charges included numerous transactions from places like City Market, Lively Boutique, Gandolf’s Smoke Shop and Durango Organics Marijuana Dispensary, among others.

Hein is suspected of purchasing items such as a bra, thong, bracelets, jewelry and a tank top from Lively Boutique. She is suspected of making at least three ATM withdrawals using the nonprofit’s debit cards inside a Durango Organics Marijuana Dispensary. She is also suspected of taking $800 in cash from a jar kept at 4 the Children and depositing it into her TBK bank account, according to the affidavit.

She is also suspected of creating a limited liability company with a stated mission of providing support for women who experienced female-specific health challenges.

During a financial audit, it was discovered Hein wrote checks and conducted online transfers from 4 the Children’s Alpine Bank account to her Blue Heron Services LLC, according to the affidavit.

She is suspected of completing 15 transfers totaling $2,025.

“No one at 4 The Children was aware of any time Blue Heron Services ever provided any services to 4 The Children,” the affidavit says.

On occasion, Hein would repay some of her debit card transactions, saying she accidentally used the wrong card, according to the affidavit. But the amounts she paid back totaled only $1,006, according to the affidavit.

Hein appears to have done little to cover her tracks. After quitting, she left numerous financial documents on her desk, including a deposit receipt for $800 into her personal TBK Bank account – the same amount that had gone missing from a cash jar kept at the nonprofit, according to the affidavit.

Prior to Hein joining the nonprofit, 4 the Children spent about $300 per year on groceries and other meals, according to the affidavit. During her tenure, grocery bills increased to about $13,000. After Hein quit, grocery and restaurant expenses decreased again to about $300.

Those associated with the nonprofit told investigators the organization does not provide food or groceries to clients, and it is unusual to purchase anything beyond bottled water and a few light snacks like granola bars.

“There was no reason that Gandolf’s Smoke Shop should have been used as a merchant for 4 the Children,” the affidavit says.

Hein did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.

During his investigation, Sheriff’s Office Investigator Aaron Kyser told Hein he didn’t believe Hein to be a bad person, according to his seven-page affidavit.

Hein responded: “But there is some bad stuff here.”


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