By Pat Anson, Editor
A widening rift in the kratom community erupted into a virtual earthquake today with the release of a statement by the American Kratom Association that accuses its founder and former chair of financial improprieties.
Susan Ash called the allegations against her “defamation” and suggested she would take legal action against the organization that she created.
Ash founded the American Kratom Association (AKA) in 2014 and played a prominent role in its successful campaign last year to prevent the Drug Enforcement Administration from listing kratom as a controlled substance. She resigned as chair in May after complaints arose about her management of the AKA, a non-profit that has grown considerably in size and funding in the past year.
“I regret to say that even during our biggest successes, I have heard ill-informed and malicious sniping about AKA and me," Ash said at the time. “I am an organizer and a front-line campaigner and that is where I need to be for kratom. I am stepping down from the AKA board effective immediately to concentrate more on those efforts.”
Ash remained as national spokesperson for the AKA, but was suspended after an internal audit of the organization’s financial records.
“The preliminary financial review identified significant discrepancies and missing records in financial documentation for compensation and expense reimbursements paid to Ms. Ash over a significant time period. Several of the expenditures are substantial, and have raised significant questions as to whether they were appropriate for reimbursement from donor funds,” the AKA said in its statement.
“A formal request was made to Ms. Ash to provide receipts and justifications for expenses to allow for the financial review to be completed, but Ms. Ash has been unwilling and/or unable to provide the necessary receipts and records to justify these expenditures.”
The statement also said Ash refused to relinquish control of the AKA’s bank and PayPal accounts. Current AKA chairman Dave Herman told PNN the organization has “no idea how much money" is in those accounts and no longer has access to them. It has since established new accounts.
“The statement that the American Kratom Association put out about me today is defamation. That is the only comment I will make about it, as this matter is in the hands of lawyers,” Ash said in a statement on her Facebook page.
Ash worked tirelessly to promote the safe use of kratom, which she used to control her opioid addiction. Millions of others have found the herbal supplement effective in treating chronic pain, depression, anxiety and addiction.
Listing kratom as a Schedule I controlled substance, alongside heroin and LSD, would have made it a felony to possess or distribute. The DEA suspended its plan to list kratom after a very effective public relations and lobbying campaign by Ash and the AKA.
“I've never fought a harder, more public battle -- not just because of the terrible odds against us, but because this one opened up my private life, including my very personal struggles with addiction, to the world,” Ash wrote in a Facebook post last August.
“I wasn't prepared to be the poster child, or to have admirers, or to have haters, but I believed with every fiber of my being that kratom is safe and can change and save lives including my own, so this battle was worth it.”
The AKA’s political success led to an infusion of over $800,000 in donations last year, according to Herman, who says Ash was being paid over $5,000 a month when she resigned as chair. Until this year she was paid only a small stipend.
Herman said Ash has ignored repeated requests to turn over receipts and other financial records, and has continued to “interfere” with the AKA. He told PNN the board preferred to keep the estrangement with Ash a private matter, but felt it had no choice but to go public.
“I didn’t want to try this in the court of public opinion,” Herman said. “What I want to have happen, with all my heart, is for her to pony up the receipts, go quietly her way and let us go quietly our way with no disparagement of any kind. There’s no desire to do this. I fought hard to not do this. But when you’re given no choice, you got to go.”