Bellingham man guilty of stealing funds from homeless nonprofit he co-founded

Jul 1, 2024, 7:13 AM | Updated: 10:04 am

bellingham homeless nonprofit...

A tiny home village in Bellingham the nonprofit HomesNOW! Not Later runs and operates. (Photo courtesy of HomesNOW! Not Later)

(Photo courtesy of HomesNOW! Not Later)

A Bellingham man has pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $75,000 from a nonprofit he co-founded to help the homeless.

According to The Bellingham Herald, a judge sentenced James Lee Peterson, 67, to 60 days in jail in addition to paying back $47,000 after he pled guilty to one count of first-degree theft at a felony level.

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The nonprofit Peterson stole from is called HomesNOW! Not Later, an organization that runs and operates tiny home communities for unhoused people. HomesNOW! currently operates two tiny home villages — Unity Village and Swift Haven — in Bellingham.

From June 2017 to September 2019 — the first two years of the nonprofit’s existence — Peterson was illegally siphoning funds, according to court records obtained by The Bellingham Herald. Peterson reportedly withdrew funds from the nonprofit’s business banking account and used the money at casinos and local businesses in Whatcom and Skagit counties.

Peterson’s guilty plea and subsequent sentencing came nearly five years after charges were filed against him. He was arrested Nov. 1, 2019, following a monthlong investigation by the Bellingham Police Department, but left custody three days later after posting a $10,000 bail.

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According to The Bellingham Herald, Peterson’s court case was continued 27 times, partially due to delays the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Washington court system.

“The HomesNOW board is relieved that Mr. Peterson’s case has finally been resolved after a prolonged period,” Doug Gustafson, chairman of HomesNOW! Not Later, said in a June 25 statement to The Bellingham Herald.

Frank Sumrall is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here and you can email him here.

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