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MA Masons 'CHIPS' Program embroiled in funding controversy

Rotating Compass & Square

The Republican

Bish Foundation funds separate from Masons'

Thursday, December 02, 2004

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WARREN - The father of slain lifeguard Molly Anne Bish said yesterday that despite published reports, none of the money from the foundation named for his daughter was given to the Freemsons, but he is concerned about the future of that group's child identification program.

A story in the Boston Herald yesterday indicated that there may be some accounting problems within the Masons organization, and money given to the so-called CHIP program might have been used for other purposes.

But the head of the state's Freemasons said the matter is the result of a "misunderstanding" and denied any misappropriation of donated funds.

Donald G. Hicks, Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Grand Master, said the Masons have collected unsolicited donations for the CHIP program totaling $15,700 in the past four years. But the program has cost $500,000 to operate over that period and all of the money was taken from the Masons' "Charity Fund."

The fund is the same one where donations for the CHIP program were kept, he said. The group does not maintain a special fund specifically for the program, Hicks said, because the small amount donated for it would not produce enough interest to support the $150,000 annual cost of operating CHIP.

"There were some people who believed that we had set up a CHIP fund," he said. "But there is no specific CHIP fund."

John J. Bish said yesterday that while members of the Molly Bish Foundation have worked alongside the Masons during child identification programs, they did not contribute to the CHIP program.

"They have no access to our funds," Bish said. "We have spoken on their behalf and we have done programs with them, but all of the money given to Molly's foundation is used for the programs we provide."

The Bish Foundation provides child identification packets that include a photograph and fingerprints, while the Masons' CHIP program provides a brief videotaped interview with the child, fingerprints, a cheek swab for DNA and a bite impression of the child's teeth. To date 200,000 children have identification kits from the Masons and nearly 90,000 children have been fingerprinted by the Bish Foundation. Bish said that news of the alleged accounting problems left him disheartened.

"I'm disturbed to hear that this could be a problem," he said. "But I'm sure they will rectify the problem soon. We want to support any efforts to provide child identification materials."

Bish said the foundation has plans to work with the Masons in the future and has not canceled those events.

"My understanding is that the money was given for the Masons' CHIP account but it may have been placed in the general fund and used for other things," Bish said. "I just hope it's not a real bad situation."

Bish spent last night doing interviews and assuring donors to the Bish Foundation that their money was being used for programs the foundation provides.

Hicks said the Masons accountants, Wolf and Co. of Boston, would honor written requests for fiscal documents. He said the audit for the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31 is expected in January.

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