Founder Ophelia Noble misappropriated nearly $1 million for her own businesses, family and friends
VANCOUVER — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced a lawsuit against Vancouver nonprofit Noble Foundation and its founder and executive director, Ophelia Noble, along with foundation directors, and Noble’s family and friends. Ferguson asserts since 2019, Noble misappropriated or failed to account for $1 million in charitable grants the foundation received to serve communities of color in southwest Washington.
In a lawsuit filed in Clark County Superior Court, Ferguson asserts Noble paid herself hundreds of thousands of dollars from foundation funds, used foundation money to buy vehicles for herself and her mother and directed the foundation to buy her father’s house then resell it to her at a deep discount. The lawsuit names Noble, the Noble Foundation, foundation directors Douglas Noble (Noble’s father), Alice Prejean (Noble’s mother), Alyce Noble, Joann Hampton and Virginia Prioleau.
Noble’s misconduct includes numerous violations of Washington’s Nonprofit Corporation Act, with potential penalties of up to $5,000 per violation. Ferguson will ask the court to order Noble and her co-defendants to return the diverted money so that it can be directed to an organization that can use it for its intended charitable purposes, dissolve the foundation and bar Noble and her other co-defendants from serving on the boards of any Washington nonprofit in the future.
“Preying on the generosity of Washingtonians is shameful — and unlawful,” Ferguson said. “We will hold those responsible accountable and work to ensure the diverted money is paid back and directed towards its intended purpose: advancing racial equity and serving communities of color.”
Noble Foundation was founded to serve BIPOC communities
Ophelia Noble started The Noble Foundation in 2012 to serve communities of color in Vancouver, Kelso and Longview.
In 2019, the foundation expanded rapidly, securing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Washington State Office of Financial Management as part of a state effort to encourage members of undercounted Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities to register for the 2020 Census.
The foundation continued to grow when the pandemic hit. Operating as Our Place/Nuestra Casa Multicultural Center, the foundation provided emergency rent assistance, cash assistance for general household needs, and community education about the dangers of COVID-19 and the importance of vaccinations. It subsequently secured major contracts with counties and the state to facilitate the Treasury Rent Assistance Program and Eviction Rent Assistance Program, disbursing more than $1.3 million on behalf of Clark County and the Washington State Department of Commerce between 2021 and 2023.
As public attention focused more sharply on racial justice and policing issues, the foundation created Southwest Washington Communities United for Change, a tax-exempt social welfare organization. Southwest purportedly focused on organizing protests and trying to increase participation and political representation for BIPOC communities in Clark and Cowlitz counties. Southwest brought in several hundred thousand dollars from grantors interested in establishing a BIPOC-led political organization serving Southwest Washington.
It appears that most of the public dollars received by the foundation and its related entities were spent properly and not misappropriated. However, large grants from private and community foundations, were not subject to the same level of fiscal controls. The nonprofits raised approximately $1.5 million from such foundations including the Northwest Health Foundation, Social Justice Fund Northwest, the Satterberg Foundation, the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, Group Health/Inatai Foundation and the Seattle Foundation.
Misappropriations go back years
Beginning in 2019, Noble used her position as executive director to misappropriate large sums of donated charitable funds from the foundation’s accounts.
The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that Noble and her family received direct, documented payments or benefits of nearly $1 million. Some examples:
- In July 2021, Noble caused the foundation and Southwest to pay her $355,000 in “back pay,” for “contract services” purportedly provided between 2015 and 2021. There is no evidence that any contracts existed, any money was owed, or that these payments were approved by the entities’ boards.
- The foundation paid Noble’s consulting company $310,000 for unspecified “executive director services” that were never approved by the board.
- $200,000 was either withdrawn from the various foundation entities’ bank accounts without explanation or issued to unknown individuals in the form of cashier’s checks. Only Noble and the directors were authorized signers on these accounts.
- In 2020, Noble directed the foundation to purchase her father’s house for approximately $200,000, but she put her name on the deed as well as the foundation’s. The following year, she paid the foundation $100,000 for its interest in the home. When the foundation transferred title to Noble in 2022, the house was worth at least $324,000, meaning Noble gained $224,000 in equity. There is no evidence the foundation’s board reviewed and approved these transactions, which were clearly a conflict of interest for Noble.
- In 2020, Noble used foundation money to purchase a 2019 Nissan Armada, which she used as her personal vehicle. She used foundation funds to make upgrades to the vehicle and cover maintenance and gas. The foundation also purchased a second vehicle, which Noble later transferred to her mother.
- Noble, her family, and other directors used foundation money to fund over $65,000 in additional purchases that lack a clear connection to the entities’ charitable purposes, including for gift cards, meals, groceries, gas, travel, cell phones, personal clothing, and even alcohol and cigarettes.
Other charity lawsuits
The Legislature identified the Attorney General’s Office as the agency tasked with enforcing the Nonprofit Corporation Acts. These laws ensure that nonprofits and entities that solicit charitable donations or manage charitable assets follow the laws adopted by the Legislature. These laws ensure that funds intended for charity are not misused.
The Attorney General’s Office has three attorneys who specifically focus on charity cases involving the misuse or misappropriation of funds solicited for a charitable purpose.
Recent enforcement actions include:
- A $300,000 judgment against a family that operated a group of sham charities purporting to help cancer patients and vulnerable children but used the donations to enrich themselves.
- A $1 million judgment against charities that claimed to help veterans over what a judge ruled was “deceptive” and “abusive” conduct.
- A million dollars recovered for a veterans’ nonprofit after its leadership failed to pay wages to its veteran employees. The director used charity funds for her own personal expenses, including gambling at casinos. As a result of the Attorney General’s case, the executive director and board members were removed from the nonprofit and barred from working for any Washington nonprofits in the future.
A $495,000 judgment against two companies that made more than one million robocalls in Washington state for scam charities. The $495,000 payment went to legitimate charities.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.email@example.com