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Security lapse at Manchester shelter for homeless veterans exposes data on hundreds of donors

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 24. 2018 2:06PM
Donor records for Liberty House in Manchester contained personal information. (Union Leader file)

MANCHESTER — Information on thousands of donors to Liberty House — a homeless veterans charity — were left on a computer that a departing employee purchased, according to a former board member.

The group’s executive director, Jeffrey Nelson, recently sent a letter to donors saying a “compromised” donor list with about 485 donors included people’s names, addresses, first donation date and maximum donation date.

“There’s more information out there than they’re claiming,” said Dee Moore, who resigned from the non-profit board last month over the issue.

Nelson’s letter said the matter was referred to Manchester police “to conduct a criminal investigation.”

In an interview Monday, Nelson, a former police chief in Dunbarton, said “certain people had information that they shouldn’t have had, so that’s why we made the referral.”

Moore said Nelson allowed two Liberty House employees to buy the laptops they used for work for $400 each. At least one had donor information and a second contained the group’s financial information, according to Moore.

Nelson confirmed Liberty House sold two laptops to the two employees.

“All I call tell you (is) that our understanding was it was a factory reset on the laptops,” he said.

Nelson didn’t want to provide further details, citing a personnel issue and that he didn’t “want to tread on” the police investigation.

His letter said “our understanding is that it involves some people previously associated with Liberty House.”

One employee purchased her computer in November and the second in January, Moore said.

Attempts to reach the two employees were unsuccessful.

Moore said she took a thumb-drive with a sample of the information, including copies of some donor checks, and met with Terry Knowles at the Attorney General’s Office in January.

Knowles, assistant director of charitable trusts at the Attorney General’s office, didn’t return a phone message Monday.

Nelson said he was informed that the AG’s office was not investigating.

Nelson said Liberty House sent letters to nearly 2,000 donors “to make sure we were transparent with our donors”

He said the 485 donor figure he cited in his letter was a number derived from the list Moore had given to the AG’s office.

The actual number of donors on the one laptop computer totaled in the thousands, Moore said.

“They’re trying to cover their tracks,” Moore said of Nelson’s letter. “I don’t know why these people can’t get up and say they made a mistake.”

Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, wasn’t happy when informed a Union Leader reporter had a copy of a check he wrote to Liberty House dated Dec. 9.

“It’s a black eye,” said Baldasaro, a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. “It’s nobody’s business what money I give them.”

Baldasaro, who was a national leader in Donald Trump’s veteran outreach campaign during Trump’s presidential run, said Liberty shouldn’t give out any more computers and should “restrict access to this private information.”

Nelson’s letter also said 15 copies of donation checks were “also compromised.”

Liberty House offers 10 beds to homeless vets, who stay on average six to seven months. It also provides a food and clothing pantry that serves between 100 and 125 people a week. The group’s budget is around $440,000 a year, according to Nelson.

Moore said she talked with Nelson about the situation on Jan. 11, three months before letters alerting donors were sent.

“We moved with as much speed as we possibly could while trying to understand what was going on,” Nelson said. “I don’t have a timeline of all that happened or exactly what the dates were.”

Liberty House has completed a written security plan and provided staff training, Nelson said.

“We tightened ourselves up considerably and we just hope donors would understand,” Nelson said.

Moore wondered whether the security issues would hurt donations.

“Would you give? I think I might be kind of hesitant to keep giving,” she said.

Moore said she contacted the Attorney General’s office to seek advice on how to handle the situation.

“My purpose of this is not to bring down Liberty House,” she said. “Liberty House has always been very, very dear to my heart.”

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