Disabled artist Cindi Bernhardt (from 2003 11 Alive story)
Disabled artist Dennis Francesconi (from 2003 11 Alive story)
Mouth Foot Painting Artists charity office in Chamblee
DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. -- A few years ago we told you about artists like Cindi Bernhardt and Dennis Francesconi of California, who paint with a brush in their mouths because they were paralyzed in accidents as teenagers.
They are just some of the artists who receive moral and financial support from a Chamblee based charity called Mouth Foot Painting Artists.
It raises money by selling paintings, books, calendars and other works by those artists.
Now that charity is trying to recover after being ripped off for nearly $1.7 million.
Some former mail room employees are accused of racketeering and theft by diverting donations to a fake bank account.
"Instead of these checks going into the account for the organization, they went into the account for these individuals," said DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James.
On Tuesday James announced a multi-count racketeering indictment against Christina Kelly, Glenn Kelly, Tujuana Ross, Rory Ross, Kiante Smith, and Tyleshia Avant.
Charges against them include theft by receiving, theft by taking and money laundering.
The indictment accuses them of using the donation money, among other things, for trips to Las Vegas, San Juan, and Los Angleles as well as on mortgage, rent and cell phone payments.
District Attorney James told 11Alive News the charity uncovered the theft scheme when a donor called to say he wanted to cancel an earlier check and write a new one.
"They went and looked for this individual's check and it did not exist," James said.
"The inquiry and the investigation started from there," he added.
James said the alleged donation theft took place from 2006 to 2011, when his office launched its investigation.
The charity declined an on camera interview, but issued a written statement saying it was stunned.
"We have already installed additional security measures and will continue our mission of helping out disabled artists," it said in part.
The charity also said it had recovered most of the missing $1.68-million.