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News / Clark County News

Washington AG sues Ophelia Noble, whose Noble Foundation is meant to aid Clark, Cowlitz counties’ people of color

Ferguson claims charity creator used funding for personal use

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 11, 2023, 5:57pm

A Longview woman who founded and ran a charity to assist communities of color in Clark and Cowlitz counties has been sued by the state, alleging she and family members diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars in private, state and county funds for their personal use.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed suit Monday in Clark County Superior Court against Ophelia Noble claiming that Noble and others used the funds to buy a house, two cars and pay living expenses all while taking hefty cash payments.

Attempts to reach Noble for comment were unsuccessful. All her known phone numbers have been disconnected, and her email addresses are no longer valid.

Noble and her father, Douglas Noble, opened the Noble Foundation in 2012 with the stated goal of promoting financial literacy to marginalized communities in Southwest Washington. Later, Noble opened Our Place Multicultural Center and Southwest Washington Communities United for Change.

According to the lawsuit, the three organizations took in more than $1.5 million in funding since 2019. Funding came from Northwest Health Foundation, the Social Justice Fund, the Satterburg Foundation, the Seattle Foundation and the state Department of Commerce.

Funding also came from Clark County, which was intended to provide rental assistance. Renters waiting on that promised rental assistance were shocked to find the doors locked, lights turned out and phones disconnected this past May.

Joni McAnally, communications specialist for the county, said the foundation had “sent an email to (Clark County) Community Services that due to agency capacity constraints, they would stop taking additional referrals for rent assistance and (would) not be submitting any further invoices.”

The Council for the Homeless also notified the county it had been contacted by Noble Foundation clients after finding the office closed and phones disconnected, McAnally said, adding its efforts to contact Noble had also been unsuccessful.

“As the flow of money to the charities increased, Noble and her co-defendants misappropriated and/or failed to account for at least $1.2 million in charitable assets from their intended use,” Ferguson said in the suit.

While Noble’s salary as executive director was set at $36,000 per year, the state alleges she took additional payments of $43,680 a year and $34,560 a year from each of the other two charities.

In addition to her salary, Noble allegedly took separate payments of $86,000 and $335,000 “without any reasonable justification,” according to the lawsuit.

In July 2021, a check for $190,000 was paid to Noble’s business, Noble and Associates, even though there was no contract for services and The Noble Foundation’s board had not approved the payment. That same month, a check for $145,000 was paid to Noble and Associates from Southwest Washington Communities United for Change, again without a contract or board approval.

“Noble exerted near total control over the charities. She served as director and executive officer for each of them, managed their bank accounts and employees, obtained funds and handled day-to-day activities,” Ferguson said in the lawsuit.

The state also alleges that contracts provided to investigators did not exist when the payments were made.

In February 2022, Noble resigned as executive director of The Noble Foundation after she and the board of directors were made aware of the state’s investigation. The following month, Noble was hired by Interim Executive Director Virginia Prioleau, who is also named in the suit, as a contractor. Despite an October 2022 contract to pay Noble a salary of $89,000, the foundation paid Noble $178,000, “double the contract amount and far exceeding the market rate for an executive director working for a similarly sized charitable organization in Washington,” the suit states.

Additionally, along with cash withdrawals, more than $55,000 worth of gift cards and money orders were purchased from retail stores between 2018 and 2022. Some of the gift cards were given to Noble’s family members, the state said. Without adequate record keeping, the state said there is no way to know if the gift cards were used for legitimate purposes.

“Noble and the other defendants drained hundreds of thousands of dollars in other funds from the charities’ bank accounts through multiple unjustified and unexplained withdrawals,” Ferguson said in the suit.

Ferguson is seeking to have the court order all monies to be repaid and to assess civil penalties. The state is also asking for any remaining assets still held by the charities to be liquidated and distributed to other charitable organizations.

As for whether Noble and the other defendants’ actions might warrant criminal charges, Ferguson’s office said that will be up to the county prosecuting attorney.

“Our office does not have original criminal jurisdiction. We can only bring a criminal case when we receive and accept a formal referral from a county prosecutor,” said Brionna Aho, communications director for the attorney general’s office.

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