He traveled the world, monitoring the quality of programs that receive money from Warren Buffett's foundation.
Authorities allege the Omahan also was monitoring — and padding — his own bank account.
Dhaval S. Patel, 38, was charged Monday with felony theft from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, the charitable organization named after Buffett's late wife. Patel was senior program officer for the foundation.
Authorities allege Patel — who was paid about $190,000 a year — stole $46,000 from the foundation from December to April. The foundation fired him April 13.
Neither Patel nor his attorney, Jason Troia, could be reached for comment Monday.
The Buffett Foundation — which donated $247 million to charities worldwide in 2010, according to its last IRS filing — reported the matter to investigators in the Douglas County Attorney's Office.
In court documents, investigators alleged a scheme that used everything from chicken-scratch handwriting to website images to create false documents and receipts.
Lance Ivener, investigator in the Douglas County Attorney's Office, outlined Patel's alleged thefts through his world travels.
According to Ivener's affidavit for Patel's arrest:
London: Patel submitted an expense report for a trip to London he took in February. He included a request to be reimbursed $3,538 for a six-night stay at the high-end W Hotel.
Melissa How, the foundation's financial director, noticed that the request did not include an actual hotel bill. Instead, it included the hotel's email confirmation of the reservation with the total handwritten across the bottom.
How alerted Allen Greenberg, president of the Buffett Foundation. Greenberg told How to ask Patel to turn in the actual receipt.
Patel provided a receipt for the London hotel. But when How contacted the hotel, the hotel reported that Patel had not stayed there and the receipt he gave was “not in the format used by the hotel.” One obvious discrepancy: The hotel used five invoice numbers; “the fraudulent one had six numbers.”
Patel also submitted a request for reimbursement of $9,312 for airfare to London — airfare that “actually was purchased” using his frequent-flier miles.
Greenberg then told How to double-check the expenses Patel claimed on another trip.
The Congo: Throughout March, Patel visited several programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Patel submitted several hand-written receipts for hotels, flights and miscellaneous expenses.
He reportedly told How that regular receipts were hard to obtain from “some of these sources, including the cost of lodging at the guest houses of the (charities) he visited.”
One of those charities was CARE, which fights poverty worldwide.
Patel took flights to Goma and Kasongo — and submitted a request for reimbursement for $3,132.
He also submitted several purported hotel receipts, many of them handwritten, in several amounts: $625, $579, $537, $510, $450, $375, $275.
Further, Patel turned in handwritten receipts for reimbursement for lodging expenses at a CARE guest house.
However, CARE told investigators it paid for all flights and lodging. The charity also never charged Patel for the other expenses he claimed.
“CARE did not charge Dhaval to stay at the guest house as it is always free,” wrote Ivener, the investigator.
Rwanda: Patel requested reimbursement of $578 for food and lodging from March 31 through April 2 — expenses that authorities say CARE covered.
Investigators allege that Patel already had sent emails to CARE to ensure that “your country folks will be taking care of all of the arrangements for hotel or other type of accommodations so I will not have to directly pay. ... Can I also assume that any of the internal flights and boats will be paid for already as well?”
He was assured that those expenses would be covered.
On top of the claimed hotel expenses, Patel submitted reimbursement requests for future flights to Rome and New York City at a cost of $10,358 and $652.40, respectively. United Airlines officials told investigators that Patel's confirmation numbers for the flights did “not appear to be valid.”
Patel also submitted a claim to the foundation for $3,253 he said he spent on a flight change. The airline said Patel got that airline ticket using his frequent-flier miles.
In a statement, Allen Greenberg, president of the foundation, said the foundation board and staff referred the matter to prosecutors and “provided the County Attorney with all relevant materials and have cooperated fully with their investigation.”
“As Mr. Patel has now been arrested, we do not think it is appropriate for us to make any further comment at this time,” Greenberg said.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said investigators believe Patel crafted some of the receipts using images from hotel and airline websites.
If convicted, Patel would face up to five years' probation or 20 years in prison.
“We view these white-collar cases very seriously,” Kleine said. “And we will pursue these cases very aggressively — especially when it involves (alleged) thefts from charitable organizations.”
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