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cjb comments on SIAI Fundraising - Less Wrong

59 [deleted] 26 April 2011 08:35AM

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Comment author: cjb 27 April 2011 03:16:37AM *  21 points [-]
  • In 2009 the SIAI reported $118,802 to theft - "Misappropriation of assets, by a contractor [...]" This is a significant amount when compared to annual revenue or liquid assets. The year's surplus appears to have been eaten up by the theft. No details are provided, other than the fact that suit has been filed to seek restitution.

I'm surprised that no-one's mentioned this -- it's hard to imagine how someone can steal that much money. Can someone at SIAI tell us whether they're allowed to talk about what happened; and if you can't right now, do you have any idea when you might be able to?

Comment author: gwern 15 February 2012 06:36:54PM *  12 points [-]

The theft must have been discovered to be more extensive than thought, because one early report says

Embezzlement report: Alicia Isaac, 37, of Sunnyvale arrested on embezzlement, larceny and conspiracy charges in connection with $51,000 loss, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence in 1400 block of Adams Drive, Dec. 10.

Which is significantly less than $120k.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 20 February 2012 08:46:45AM 3 points [-]

So in December 2009, Alicia Isaac was arrested for stealing from SIAI. One year later, she was hired by the Lifeboat Foundation, where she apparently still works.. On the finance board, no less!

Was she vindicated in 2010, or is the Lifeboat Foundation just stupid?

Comment author: gwern 20 February 2012 03:11:05PM *  3 points [-]

Was she vindicated in 2010,

Luke in his questions page for when he became director said the case was ongoing and scheduled for trial, IIRC, and that was either 2011 or 2012.

or is the Lifeboat Foundation just stupid?

I'm not sure stupid is the right adjective for the things I wonder about Lifeboat...

Comment author: steven0461 20 February 2012 06:21:58PM 2 points [-]

Based on the links, I don't think she actually works there any more than all the other advisory board members do. She isn't listed on the staff page.

Comment author: gwern 20 February 2012 11:37:02PM 1 point [-]

Looking in the Internet Archive, their staff page never lists anything with the keyword 'finance' (for the past 2-3 years), so I'm not sure that's a strong argument from silence.

Comment author: steven0461 21 February 2012 12:30:23AM *  4 points [-]

The "finance board" that she's a part of is one of LF's "advisory boards", which look like they total 1000+ people; see the first link in the grandparent. These people aren't employees even though they have bios on the site. My impression is they just get listed on the site and added to a mailing list.

Comment author: Alicorn 21 February 2012 12:36:46AM 3 points [-]

Yep. They seem to just look for people who have some connection, however tenuous, to what they do, and then ask nicely if you'd like to be on the board. Then they email you occasionally and maintain a wee profile with links to your stuff. It's pretty okay.

Comment author: gwern 24 June 2013 01:35:10AM *  1 point [-]

I think you may be right. I just took a look at the 2011 form 990 (2012 is not out), which is where I'd expect to first see her mentioned if she was handling books for them, but the form is listed as being prepared by the president Eric Klien and Isaac is not mentioned anywhere in it I can see.

Comment author: Rain 27 April 2011 04:31:19PM *  9 points [-]

Michael Vassar sent out an email with more information back in Dec 2009 (shortly after they discovered the theft?). I'm not sure if it was just to donors or also included newsletter subscribers. It basically said, 'we trusted this person and they took advantage of that trust.' It also states that since legal action is still pending, they have to "limit what [they] say", but that you can send further inquiries to Michael.

Comment author: cjb 27 April 2011 04:52:34PM 14 points [-]

Thanks. I guess the followup questions are:

  • Is the legal action still pending, or can the situation be talked about openly now?
  • Has SIAI been able to recover the money?
  • Was it a mistake to trust a contractor with access to >$100k of funds? Do they still do that?
Comment author: CarlShulman 03 May 2011 10:11:57AM *  8 points [-]

My understanding is that the case is ongoing in criminal court, at least as of a few weeks ago, and that the money has largely not yet been recovered. As far as I know, only that one contractor had the relevant financial access, which was required for the job, but obviously the financial controls on that access were not sufficient. I think that currently only the President and COO have the relevant access to the accounts (though others, including the majority-donor board, have limited access to monitor the accounts).