In 2009, Katrin Verclas became a TED fellow and won a Knight News Challenge grant. In 2010, she became a fellow at the MIT Media Lab. In 2011, she was named one of the “most influential women in technology” by Fast Company.
And in 2018, she was indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on a charge related to fraud.
On Thursday, Justice announced that a federal grand jury indicted Verclas for “a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of State of $1.231 million.” The money, which was given to Verclas by a grant for her “non-profit” MobileActive, was spent “on personal expenses and expenses unrelated to the grant.”
The State Department gave Verclas a grant to “support and promote U.S. global internet freedom efforts,” under the guise that her organization was a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. But MobileActive Corp is not a non-profit. It was incorporated in 2010 in the state of Delaware, meaning it “did not have the legal authority to apply for the grant.”
Verclas founded MobileActive in 2006, an organization that would act as “a hub for people around the world who are building tools for mobile phones that make a difference,” according to the Fast Company profile on her. The idea behind the site was to link people from around the world to collaborate on humanitarian projects dealing with mobile phone software.
“People who work with mobile technology in this social-change world have huge hearts [and] are really smart,” Verclas told Fast Company. “As a result, this amazing community has formed of people being amazingly willing to share their successes, as well as failures, so there’s a lot of creative progress.”
Since Verclas founded MobileActive, she had become a bit of a philanthropic and innovation darling. She got $200,000 from the Knight Foundation in 2009 to build a “Mobile Media Toolkit,” which was “a downloadable production tool for various mobile phone platforms,” according to a cached news story from WIRED. She also moderated a panel discussion for UNICEF Innovation in 2013 encouraging non-profits and the private sector to talk about their failures in charitable work.
According to the DOJ release, Verclas faces up to 10 years in prison for “major fraud.”