Attorney General Schwalb Sues Nonprofit’s Former Treasurer for Illegally Using Organization Funds for Personal Enrichment

Board Member Abused Leadership Role at Parent-Teacher Organization, Stole Nonprofit Funds from District Elementary School

WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb today filed a lawsuit against Robynn Chandler-Mitchell, the former Treasurer and board member of the nonprofit Parents Organized for the Power of Powell School (POPPS), the parent-teacher organization created to support the teachers, students, and staff of Powell Elementary School, a District public school in Ward 4.  The lawsuit alleges that Chandler-Mitchell abused her leadership role with the organization by spending POPPS’ funds that had been raised by the Powell community on personal expenses such as car payments and groceries, and at shoe stores, restaurants, and nail salons, in violation of the District’s Nonprofit Corporation Act (NCA).

“Any nonprofit operating in the District of Columbia must follow DC law and ensure that its funds are used for designated nonprofit purposes—in this case to support the Powell Elementary community—not for personal, private gain,” said Attorney General Schwalb. “Ms. Chandler-Mitchell exploited her trusted position as Treasurer of POPPS, misappropriating money meant for school supplies, a community garden, and other school initiatives. She admitted—under oath—to taking these funds, which she has yet to repay, so we’re filing suit to ensure she returns the money.  The Office of Attorney General will continue to enforce the laws governing nonprofit and charitable organizations, ensuring that charitable funds are not improperly used or diverted.”

“The Powell Padres Parent-Teacher Association appreciates the Office of the Attorney General’s efforts to recover funds on behalf of the Powell Elementary School community and its volunteer-run PTA,” said the POPPS Board of Directors. “The Powell Padres Board of Directors will continue to cooperate throughout this process.”

An investigation by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) revealed that, between October 2021, shortly after being elected Treasurer, and September 2022, when she unilaterally closed the POPPS bank account, Chandler-Mitchell transferred POPPS funds to herself, used the organization’s debit card for personal expenses, and withdrew cash from the POPPS bank account, spending a total of $18,747.11 meant for Powell Elementary School. During that time, Chandler-Mitchell repeatedly informed the POPPS Board that its finances were sound, even when her personal spending caused the bank account to carry a negative balance for several months.

With this lawsuit, OAG is seeking to:

  • Ensure Chandler-Mitchell repays POPPS the misappropriated funds in full.
  • Permanently ban Chandler-Mitchell from ever serving as a director or officer of a District nonprofit.

The full complaint is available here.

This case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Leonor Miranda, Cara Spencer, Anna Rosenfeld, and Antitrust & Nonprofit Enforcement Section Chief Adam Gitlin.

About the District’s Nonprofit Corporation Act

Nonprofit organizations are set up to benefit the public—their funds are a form of public trust. The NCA broadly empowers the Attorney General to police nonprofits operating in the District of Columbia to ensure that nonprofits operate and spend their funds consistent with the public purpose for which the nonprofits were created. A nonprofit abandons its public purpose when it allows any portion of its funds to be spent in ways that are designed to benefit private persons or companies. This well-established nonprofit principle—the prohibition on private inurement—is provided in the NCA and is a fundamental tenet of the common law.

OAG’s Nonprofit Enforcement Work

Since 2015, OAG has steadily expanded its capacity to enforce District laws governing nonprofits. Most recently, OAG resolved actions against a lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police for running an illegal off-premises liquor sales program, the Coast Guard Auxiliary Association for improper payments to its Board President, and Delta Phi Epsilon, Inc. for using nonprofit funds for personal gain. OAG has also litigated or resolved cases against several charter schools, including Options Public Charter School, as well as the president of the Park Southern Neighborhood Corporation, an affordable housing building, for mismanagement of nonprofit funds. OAG has also sued several organizations for misuse of charitable funds, including Casa Ruby, a DC organization that misused funds intended to serve LGBTQ+ youth. Additionally, OAG has obtained a court order requiring District nonprofit Howard Theatre Restoration, Inc. to dissolve for failing to function in support of the District’s historic Howard Theatre, and secured $950,000 from the Washington Hebrew Congregation’s preschool for violations of the NCA in addition to several childcare safety violations that put children at risk, and intervened to resolve a board dispute at an internet freedom organization.  

If you suspect that a nonprofit or officer of a nonprofit doing business in the District of Columbia is violating District law, please contact OAG at (202) 727-3400.