PORTLAND — A Portland-based nonprofit whose mission is to protect Maine’s wild islands and a recreational water trail claims that a former employee embezzled thousands of dollars from the organization.

The Maine Island Trail Association has sued its former business manager in Cumberland County Superior Court, said Rod Vogel, chairman of the board of trustees. It alleges that Patricia M. Dano of Naples embezzled $117,000 during the 4½ years she worked for the association.

“This news, especially with our small staff and budget, has been really upsetting,” Vogel said. “It’s devastating to a small nonprofit like ours.”

He said the organization’s annual operating budget is about $500,000.

Attempts to reach Dano on Monday were unsuccessful.

In the lawsuit, the organization’s Executive Director Douglas Welch alleges that Dano embezzled money by:

Forging Welch’s signature on association checks to pay herself and creditors.

Using an association credit card for her personal use.

Making payments on her own credit card by transferring money from the association’s operating account.

The missing money was discovered by another employee last month, a few weeks after Welch dismissed Dano, according to the lawsuit.

Welch says in the lawsuit that “I was unaware of her embezzlement” when he terminated her and gave her a severance package.

The association recently hired an accounting firm, which helped it determine the scope of its losses. Welch has filed a report with Portland police.

About 4,000 letters informing association members about the thefts were mailed on Friday.

“We wanted to be very transparent about this,” Vogel said. “We also wanted to let our members know that despite these losses, we are able to move forward and meet our financial obligations.”

The association maintains a 375-mile recreational water trail that stretches from the New Hampshire border to Machias Bay. Members, who travel by boat or kayak, may spend a day or night at any of the trail’s 191 island campsites.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]