Former executive accused of embezzling $144k from Miracles Club, gambling non-profit’s money

Former Miracles Director Sentenced
Portland Observer, July 26, 2016

Herman Bryant

A former director at the Miracles Club has met his fate for the theft of $144,000 from the non-profit organization that serves Portland’s African American community.

Herman Bryant, 59, was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for embezzling the money over two years and then gambling it away at Spirit Mountain Casino in southwest of Portland. Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Henry Kantor ordered him to repay the entire amount, a sum that “is going to live with you for the rest of your life.”

His attorney, Drake Durham, reiterated how Bryant maintained being clean and sober for 16 years before his downfall, so he could work with those in need. He also won praise from another non-profit, JOIN, for helping place homeless individuals back into permanent housing.

The Miracles Club began back in 1993 as a home base for members of the community suffering from drug, alcohol and other addictions. Officials said Bryant himself has suffered from such addictions, including a gambling addiction.

Former executive sentenced for embezzling $144k from nonprofit
Oregonian, July 20, 2016

Herman Cordell Bryant has been called “a pillar of his community,” overcoming drug addiction and an extensive criminal past to give back to his community. He spent years helping addicts like himself stay sober through the nonprofit organization the Miracles Club, even becoming its executive director.

But on Wednesday, Bryant, 59, was sentenced to three years in prison for embezzling $144,000 from the Northeast Portland nonprofit. He was indicted in February on first-degree aggravated theft and other charges related to the theft of money from the Miracles Club, a nonprofit organization that helps recovering drug addicts and alcoholics stay sober.

Bryant in June confessed to first-degree aggravated theft, and the other charges were dropped, according to court documents.

The Multnomah County Circuit Court indictment claimed Bryant began funneling tens of thousands of dollars for his own use in early 2013, continuing until the end of 2014. He was accused of gambling away much of it at the Spirit Mountain Casino.

The indictment also accused Bryant of identity theft, saying he used the identity of Michael Booker, who was appointed the Miracles Club’s interim executive director after Bryant was indicted.

It’s the second criminal case involving a Miracle Club staffer in the past couple of years. The club’s program director and Bryant’s significant other at the time, Dionne Preston, walked into a North Portland convenience store with a friend in November 2014 and attacked the owners with a piece of wood with protruding nails.

Preston blamed an Oxycodone addiction for her behavior and was sentenced to more than three years in prison in August 2015.

Bryant’s history of drug use also includes drug-fueled convictions, but he became sober sometime after his last drug-possession conviction in 2000.

Deputy District Attorney Ryan Lufkin said Wednesday that while the state recognizes Bryant turned his life around and “by all counts did admirable work” for his community, Bryant could simply not embezzle thousands of dollars from a nonprofit without appropriate punishment.

Bryant’s attorney, Drake Durham, said despite the drug addiction and criminal history, Bryant was able to be “16 years clean and sober” and give back to his community through his work with the Miracles Club.

“By all accounts, (the Miracles Club) wouldn’t be where it is today without Mr. Bryant,” Durham said.

Bryant has been working with another nonprofit, JOIN, since last fall, according to outreach worker Diana Hernandez, who also appeared in court Wednesday. JOIN helps homeless people return to permanent housing.

As she addressed Judge Henry Kantor and Bryant, Hernandez tearfully said Bryant’s imprisonment will be “a tremendous loss to JOIN.”

“From the moment that Herman arrived at JOIN, he’s been nothing but helpful,” she said, adding that clients have told her that Bryant “changed their lives.”

As Hernandez addressed Bryant, he wiped tears from his eyes.

“I understand that gambling is an addiction and a disease,” she said. “It’s not a moral issue, it’s a disease.”

Bryant told the judge he began treatment for his gambling addiction in 2014, before he was indicted earlier this year.

“But the damage is done, your honor,” Bryant said. “The damage is done.”

As he spoke, Bryant cried — not for fear of prison, he said, but “for letting down the community that needed and trusted me.”

Kantor sentenced Bryant to 36 months in prison, and said he hopes Bryant will try to find employment after his release despite his age and criminal history.

“It’s going to be tough,” Kantor said.

The judge also waived attorney fees and any fines as paying back the embezzled money would be difficult enough, saying, “The $144,000 restitution … is going to live with you for the rest of your life.”