Jan 19, 2022 - News

Embezzlement scheme hits T.J. Martell Foundation

The Estes Kefauver Federal Building in Nashville.

The Estes Kefauver Federal Building in Nashville. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP

A former executive at the T.J. Martell Foundation for Cancer Research is facing a federal wire fraud charge after investigators accused her of embezzling more than $3.7 million in foundation funds.

  • Investigators said Melissa Goodwin, 55, improperly used a foundation credit card to buy tickets to the Super Bowl and a Lady Gaga concert, among other expensive goods, as part of a "fraudulent scheme."
  • Goodwin served as executive vice president and general manager from 2018-2020. She is also accused of doctoring credit card bills and altering financial statements to hide her behavior from colleagues.

Why it matters: The federal investigation casts a pall over the foundation, a widely respected cancer research nonprofit powered by Nashville's music industry.

  • The foundation's board of trustees is a who's who among Music Row power brokers, including Big Machine Label Group's Scott Borchetta, Warner Music Nashville's John Esposito, Morris Higham Management's Clint Higham and Sandbox Entertainment's Jason Owen.
  • According to the most recent public tax documents, the nonprofit reported total annual revenue of $4.5 million.

Driving the news: Federal court documents did not explain all of the details, but prosecutors said they wanted to recoup the "proceeds of the scheme."

The other side: Goodwin's attorney Worrick Robinson IV, released a statement saying she was cooperating with investigators and was "accepting responsibility for her role in this offense."

  • "There are additional facts that will come to light in the coming months that will provide more detail and clarity about this case," Robinson wrote.

What they're saying: T.J. Martell’s interim CEO Lynn-Anne Huck tells Axios in a statement that the agency discovered the scheme 18 months ago, fired Goodwin, shared its findings with the FBI, and implemented new financial safeguards.

  • "It's utterly disgraceful that anyone, especially a trusted employee, would victimize a nonprofit organization that provides vital funds to the fight against cancer," Huck said in the statement.
  • The foundation responded to the case with a pair of civil lawsuits Tuesday seeking to retrieve millions of dollars in damages.
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