In 2010, World Ambassadors, Ltd. had its tax-exempt status revoked by the IRS after failing to file an annual disclosure of its income and spending. That may have been because the organization was more of less broke, since co-founder and president Jon S. Petersen had been embezzling funds from the group since 2010. Between then and 2014, he admits to embezzling $475,000 in which he used to fund a sex addiction.
Petersen was found out after his own tax filings from 2013 failed to report $114,000, which he had taken from the charity. Although no sentencing date has been set, Petersen plead guilty and faces up to three years in prison, and may be required to pay back donors who supported World Ambassadors. That may be difficult, as he also racked up a lot of credit card debt and used home equity lines of credit to fund his sex addiction.
World Ambassadors was founded in 1993 by Petersen and his wife, with the goal of providing Christian outreach to international students on college campuses. It only had about a dozen contributors annually, but they still managed to donate quite a bit, considering how much Petersen managed to steal. Although stripped of its tax-exempt status, the organization remained registered as a nonprofit, and was in good standing with the state of Iowa.
The details of how Petersen spent the money haven’t been released, but they aren’t important. What matters is that he broke the trust of the donors who believed in his group’s mission, and made accomplishing that mission next to impossible. His actions left the group without the funds needed to pursue that mission, and it’s unlikely the group will ever recover. It also seems unlikely that nobody else had any idea what was going on, as that is quite a lot of money to just have up and disappear.