Sunday, February 27, 2011

Trial of former Ventura College basketball coach begins in California

The trial of former Ventura College athletic director and men's basketball coach Greg Winslow that began Tuesday will hinge on whose accounting of bank records jurors believe after they spend weeks wading through Winslow's finances.

Testimony in the Winslow trial is expected to begin today in Ventura County Superior Court and may last until mid-March. Lawyers spent Tuesday afternoon giving opening statements to jurors.

Winslow is charged with a number of felonies: misappropriation of public funds, failure to pay public money, embezzlement, grand theft, identity theft, filing a false financial statement, forgery and dissuading a witness.

Prosecutor Karen Wold told jurors that Winslow betrayed the public trust by siphoning money for his own use from a "secret" County Commerce Bank account that he opened on Nov. 25, 2003. She said more than $60,000 was stolen from the college. He used more than $2,300 for a boat repair and $1,100 for a rent deposit on a beachfront house in Ventura for a weekend.

Wold said Winslow opened the account under his name and a friend's — Kevin Wise, names for the Ventura College men's Pirates basketball team, and the V-Town Pirates, a youth club basketball team that Winslow's son played on. She said Winslow forged Wise's name and without his knowledge set up the bank account.

Winslow's lawyer, Ron Bamieh, said the bank account had nothing to do with the college and was set up to raise money for the two Pirate teams. He said his client spent more money from his own pocket to help the team and ended up $13,000 in the red.

Bamieh told jurors $74,000 was spent on the men's basketball team from this account. He noted the prosecution's handwriting expert said Wise signed the bank document opening the account.

"There was nothing secret," said Bamieh. "This account existed for five years"

He noted that all the checks from the donors were marked on the back with the Commerce Bank stamp. He said Wold is focusing on the checks for his "dingy" boat repair and beach house rental where Winslow forgot his own personal check book and used the Commerce Bank account to pay for these things.

Wold said Winslow was getting checks for the college basketball team and personally spending it, including paying off a loan. Wold showed jurors one check after another from $100 and up that donors thought was earmarked for the college's basketball team. Wold said the money should have been deposited into trust accounts through the college's Student Business Office. She said Winslow circumvented the office and funneled the donations into his Commerce Bank account.

"The school didn't get the money. Mr. Winslow got the money," she said.

Wold said Winslow made money renting the gymnasium for youth basketball tournaments, and in one case he got nine checks for $2,700. That money went to the Commerce Bank account, she said.

Wold showed jurors a large image of $20,000 in cash that was turned in by Winslow through Bamieh's investigator on Feb. 1.

Bamieh told jurors it was money being raised by Winslow and college athletic director Steve Tobias to build a new men's locker room. Bamieh said the money was in a fanny pack when law enforcement executed a search warrant on July 8, 2008 and law enforcement didn't touch it.

"Even though he had access to all this money, he never spent a dime of it," Bamieh told jurors.

Bamieh said Winslow and Tobias wanted to build the locker room cheaper, off the books and sidestep the school bureaucracy, which he described as being a mess.

In an interview, Bamieh said he had a forensic accountant do a complete audit of Winslow's finances before the cash was turned over to the district attorney. He said Winslow and his wife had to file bankruptcy, their house went into foreclosure, and they had to go on the food stamp program.

Bamieh, who represents The Star, told jurors he plans to put on evidence to refute all the allegations made by the district attorney.

Friends in high places in Colorado

As the Rev. Don Armstrong faces sentencing this week for a case that's part of the biggest illegal taking of church property in Colorado history, it might be easy to forget the involvement of local elected officials who've stood by Armstrong.

Then-4th Judicial District Attorney John Newsome and former El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink served on the Grace Church and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church vestry, or board of directors, when the diocese investigation uncovered massive theft and as the vestry planned the parish's secession from the diocese.

As the judicial district's chief prosecutor at the time, Newsome eventually resigned from the vestry citing a conflict of interest, but only months after red flags suggested possible criminal prosecution. Newsome didn't return a phone call or an e-mail seeking comment on his involvement in the case.

'Possible improprieties'

Here's how the first year of the case played out, according to criminal court records and other records, including vestry minutes, that became exhibits in the civil property trial.

In March 2006, after receiving information from a former bookkeeper, the Colorado Episcopal Diocese retained a forensic accountant who went to the parish and took possession of the parish's financial documents.

On Dec. 8, 2006, parish attorney Derry Adams issued a memo to the vestry, including Newsome, outlining the offenses with which the diocese can charge, try and place a priest on administrative leave. She also outlined ownership of the church property as being "held in trust for the national Church (ECUSA) and for the Diocese in which the Parish is located." (Adams resigned as the vestry's legal counsel the following March.)

At a Dec. 18, 2006, special meeting, with Newsome in attendance, the vestry voted to have the church fund Armstrong's legal fees. Two weeks later, on Jan. 2, 2007, the vestry, including Newsome, would specify that the church would pay those fees up to $20,000, with the option to pay more in the future.

On Dec. 28, 2006, Adams notified the vestry by e-mail, including Newsome, that Bishop Robert O'Neill had issued a 90-day order barring Armstrong from the church property and from contact with church and vestry members. The basis was "results from the forensic auditors' preliminary findings" involving financial matters.

At a vestry meeting two days later, which Newsome attended, the bishop said the audit "suggested further investigation of possible financial improprieties and mismanagement of funds by the Rector." Here, Newsome moved, and Balink seconded the motion, to continue Armstrong's pay during his leave of absence. Newsome also moved for the vestry to meet with an investigator hired by Armstrong's attorney.

In January, rather than stepping aside, Newsome deepened his involvement by becoming Grace's junior warden, the vestry's vice chair.

On March 15, 2007, the diocese's attorney, Martin Nussbaum, outlined for the vestry, with Newsome in attendance, evidence of Armstrong's possible embezzlement activities discovered during the audit.

Sometime between March 15 and March 17, Newsome resigned, based on vestry members' e-mail exchanges. He announced his resignation and cited a potential conflict of interest in an e-mail to the media, saying, "It is well-known that Father Armstrong has been my priest and friend for over a decade." He added that he'd seek a special prosecutor should a law-enforcement agency decide to file charges.

(Not) by the book

On March 26, a portion of Grace members voted to secede from the diocese. That election used six county voting booths and a ballot box provided by Balink, the county's chief election official at the time, at a cost of $35. He says there was no conflict of interest, because such equipment is loaned to help other small elections.

In May 2007, the Colorado Springs Police Department began investigating Armstrong.

The following year, Newsome sought re-election. On June 12, 2008 — 11 days before the 10th Judicial District Attorney's Office was appointed as special prosecutor — Newsome accepted a $400 donation from Armstrong.

Armstrong's wife, Jessie, also gave Newsome $400 in August just before the primary election. Newsome lost to Dan May, who faced no general election opponent, and left office in January 2009. He reportedly attends church, renamed St. George's, with the breakaway group.

May says it's unclear when a special prosecutor was requested, because the book in his office used to track requests for or assignments of special prosecutors contains no entry for the Armstrong case. "We've gone totally through that book and cannot find a log sheet asking for a special prosecutor, which would be the normal habit," May says.

Balink, who is now county treasurer, voted with other vestry members on March 26, 2007, to move the church into the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. He later sat through the five-week civil trial where Armstrong's breakaway group attempted to lay legal claim to Grace's properties. Still a member of Armstrong's group, Balink says in an e-mail that he did not compromise his integrity during the Grace ordeal.

A grand jury was seated in late February 2009 and returned a 20-count indictment against Armstrong three months later.

Haverhill, Massachusetts church allegedly embezzled by former pastor gets money back

A Haverhill Roman Catholic church left on the edge of financial ruin after its pastor was accused of stealing more than $83,000 from the parish has had the money replaced.

The Archdiocese of Boston said in a letter to parishioners at St. John the Baptist Church that insurance was used to replace the missing money.

The Eagle-Tribune reports that the letter also said the Rev. Keith LeBlanc, who is charged in the theft, is expected to make restitution.

LeBlanc resigned as pastor in June. The archdiocese said at the time that there were financial irregularities at the parish and LeBlanc was receiving counseling. A police report indicated that LeBlanc was addicted to pornography.

LeBlanc has pleaded not guilty to a larceny charge and is free on personal recognizance.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Delaware crime: Wilmington pastor charged with embezzlement

A Roman Catholic pastor of two city parishes -- including one that counted Vice President Joe Biden as a past congregant -- is being accused of embezzling more than $350,000 from the parishes.

The Rev. Cornelius J. Breslin, 59, who had been pastor of the parishes of St. Patrick and St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception until Wednesday, turned himself in at the New Castle County Courthouse and entered pleas of not guilty to the charges.

When he was a U.S. senator, Joe Biden regularly attended Mass at St. Patrick's and was close with a previous pastor, the Rev. James Trainor, who died in 2004.

St. Patrick's also has been the traditional end point for Wilmington's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington officials -- who detected the alleged thefts during a routine audit -- have put Breslin on administrative leave and relieved him of "all faculties to function publicly as a priest."

As a condition of his bail, Breslin was ordered to have no contact with either of his former parishes. Because he was living in the rectory at St. Patrick's, Breslin had to move.

Breslin, with his attorney James J. Haley Jr., appeared via video before Superior Court Commissioner Michael Reynolds on Wednesday afternoon.

Breslin answered several brief questions and informed Reynolds that he would be moving in with his mother in Philadelphia.

Breslin faces two felony charges of theft over $100,000 -- one for each parish -- and two misdemeanor charges of falsifying business records.

If convicted on all charges, he faces up to 32 years in prison, but likely would face far less -- including a sentence of probation -- given his lack of a criminal record and state sentencing guidelines.

The indictment comes following a five-month investigation by the Delaware Attorney General's Office that was initiated by Diocese of Wilmington officials, who reported suspicious financial activity by the priest. According to investigators, between July 2009 and August 2010 Breslin wrote checks to himself for more than $358,000 from the accounts of both parishes and deposited the money in an account at a different bank.

Church treasurer, already accused embezzlement, also charged with cheating on taxes in Wisconsin

A Neillsville church treasurer and tax-preparer facing charges of embezzling more than $100,000 from the Calvary Lutheran Church logged additional criminal charges Monday in Clark County Circuit Court of filing false income tax returns.

John Roenz, 63, didn't report as income the money he is accused of stealing from the church, according to a criminal complaint that details six felony counts of filing false returns. Roenz was released on a $2,500 signature bond.

The complaint claims Roenz took amounts of $10,695 in 2004 to $24,827 in 2009 totaling $112,703. By not reporting that income, the complaint says, Roenz evaded state income taxes of $8,684. He had income those years from a pension and from the Neillsville school district, the complaint notes, and reported losses working as a tax preparer.

In November Roenz was charged with felony theft based on an investigation by the Neillsville Police Department showing he made entries into the church's financial software of checks paid to legitimate vendors, but the actual checks were made out to Roenz. He had "total control" of the church's financial dealings, the complaint notes.

The church discovered the losses last year and, when confronted, Roenz told the church council president he would pay the money back and "law enforcement didn't need to be involved." He told a police officer he took the money because he was "angry that the congregation didn't care that the church was operating in the red." He spent the money on "a bunch of crap," he said, in addition to eating out and occasionally gambling.

In 2007, he claimed $34,767 in income from gambling, according to tax form details included in the complaint.

He also claimed he only took money in 2010, and that he had receipts for cash purchases made in earlier years, but he threw those receipts away, an unusual act for a professional tax preparer, the complaint said.

A preliminary hearing was set for March 1.

Church official faces third theft charge in Connecticutt

A former church finance chairman already charged with stealing from a nonprofit organization and an elderly woman was arrested by warrant Friday in connection with an embezzlement scheme to bilk First Baptist Church of $400,000, state authorities said.

Alan Jonas, 63, formerly of New Britain, was charged with first-degree larceny Friday after an investigation revealed that he had stolen from the 581 Meriden Ave. church, a spokesman for the chief state's attorney said in a statement.

Jonas has been incarcerated at Hartford Correctional Center since October after he was charged with first-degree larceny in the alleged theft of $70,000 from an elderly woman with Alzheimer's disease. He was also charged with first-degree larceny in January after an investigation revealed he had siphoned $38,000 from Chorale Connecticut, a 501(c)(3) organization, during his four-year tenure as treasurer on its board of directors, according to a warrant for his arrest.

The governing council of the church reported the alleged embezzlement to Southington police in February 2010 after estimating that $285,000 was missing from the organization's investment fund. Jonas acted as the church's finance committee chairman from 2004 to 2010, according to a warrant for his arrest, and he was solely responsible for the funds.

An investigation revealed that Jonas was depleting the church's accounts but also transferring money from his personal accounts to pay expenses to hide his embezzlement, state authorities said. After church officials began auditing the accounts, they also discovered that Jonas had written 111 checks made payable to himself from another church account, the warrant said.

Some of the church accounts, which had previously contained hundreds of thousands of dollars, had been reduced to less than $1,000 by the time the thefts were reported. The total loss to the church was tallied at $396,228.69, police said.

Southington police and the Financial Crimes Bureau of the Office of the Chief State's Attorney served Jonas with an arrest warrant Friday on a charge of first-degree larceny in connection with the church thefts.

According to The Associated Press, Jonas was convicted in 1999 of embezzling $22,000 from Middlesex Hospital, where he was chief financial officer, to buy pornography.

Jonas was held in lieu of $199,000 bond after his arraignment in New Britain Superior Court. If convicted of all three first-degree larceny charges, he could face a 20year prison term for each charge, state authorities said.

Booster Club Member Under Investigation for Embezzlement in Georgia

A person working with the Douglas County High School football team booster club is under investigation for suspected embezzlement of between $3,500 and $5,000.

Police are waiting for the individual's bank records before an arrest can be made, said Capt. J.R. Davidson, of the Douglasville Police Department.

Davidson said a coach of the football team reported irregularities in the booster club’s funds.

“Once we get (the bank records), we’ll determine if it was a crime and if there’s proof,” he said. “If there is, we’ll make an arrest.”

If arrested, the individual will be charged with felony theft by taking.

Davidson said the bank could take up to two weeks before turning over the records.

According to an e-mail today from Karen Stroud, community relations director of the Douglas County School System, "Alleged accounting irregularities in the Douglas County High School Football Booster Account were reported to then school principal Connie Craft.

"She referred the matter to the Douglasville Police Department since booster clubs and their financial accounts are the responsibility of each booster club and not under the authority or accounting of the school district," Stroud said via e-mail.

Effective Feb. 1, Tim Scott became the principal of Douglas County High School. Craft has been named principal at New Manchester High School which opens in the fall.

Embezzlement case plea deal in the works in Iowa

A plea deal appears to be in the works for a former Clinton School District business office employee accused of embezzling $1.2 million from the Clinton School District.

At a pre-trial conference earlier today in U.S. District Court, prosecutor Richard Westphal said negotiations with Denisa Babcock and her private attorney, Leon Speis, are under way as they seek to strike a plea deal. Judge Thomas Shields set March 14 as Babcock’s next pre-trial conference date. Her jury trial had been set for March 7, but today was moved to April 4.

Babcock is accused of one count of theft from local government agency/organization receiving federal funds in connection with a serious financial irregularity found in the district’s books and announced a year ago by school district officials. Babcock was indicted on the charge in September, with federal authorities alleging that from approximately Nov. 18, 2005, to Dec. 11, 2009, while an accountant at the Clinton School District, Babcock embezzled, stole or converted to her own use property in value of $5,000 or more belonging to the Clinton School District.

State Auditor David Vaudt released a report two days after Babcock's indictment on the school district's records, identifying $1,207,248.32 of missing funds, although the office has said the true amount allegedly taken may never be known.

Babcock is accused of stealing checks payable to the Clinton School District and depositing those checks in accounts, at financial institutions, under her personal control. Authorities have said Babcock had accounts at several banks, and that she was depositing school district money in them, using the money for her personal expenses, setting up CDs and deriving, and keeping, the interest.

Babcock, a former accountant and business office supervisor, was hired by the district in 2004 and earned a yearly salary of $38,600. Gayle Isaac, the district’s former business manager who left in early 2010 to take a job in Newton, made a recommendation to the school board in November 2009 to lay off Babcock, with a termination date effective Dec. 9, 2009. Isaac has said the position was eliminated out of a need for budget cuts and because of the down economy.

Problems with the district’s books were discovered after Babcock left her position with the district. After the irregularity surfaced and in accordance with state code, a representative of the district's audit firm notified the Office of Auditor of State of the problem.

Investigative work turned up an unauthorized checking account and 30 unauthorized CDs, allegedly improperly established by Babcock in a name which included the district or made it appear as if the account was affiliated with the district through a foundation or scholarship. The unauthorized checking account and CDs identified were held by five separate financial institutions. State auditors also say they identified district collections deposited to Babcock's personal accounts established at two additional financial institutions.

Babcock is free on probation, although she is restricted to a four-county area in Iowa. If convicted on the charge, Babcock faces a potential penalty of up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both a fine and imprisonment, a period of supervised release of not more than three years, a special assessment of $100 and making restitution.

The district has received two $500,000 insurance payments to cover the loss. The district received an initial $500,000 in insurance funds last spring after filing a general claim related to the embezzlement. In January, Superintendent Deb Olson announced that the district’s claim through Des Moines-based EMC Insurance Companies would be honored. That company found Isaac served with a “lack of faithful performance,” and that his oversight allowed the bilking of funds to go on unnoticed. The district recovered another $500,000 insurance claim as a result of that finding.

Olson said that if Babcock is convicted, the district stands first in line to recover the remaining funds lost through embezzlement, slightly more than $200,000. Olson added she believes the funds can be recovered quickly because prosecutors have told the district Babcock has $500,000 in liquid assets that the state is seeking to seize.

The indictment also includes a forfeiture notice that upon conviction, Babcock would have to forfeit to the federal government any and all accounts at Members Choice Community Credit Union under her name and Clinton Education Excellence; all accounts at US Bank and Citizens First Bank under her name; any accounts under her name and doing business as Camanche Consulting Service; Wells Fargo Bank accounts under her name and that of Clinton Education Excellence; a 2006 Hummer, a 2007 Cadillac Escalade; a 1998 Searay Cruiser; and two residences.

Morristown, Tennessee woman, son to plead church embezzlement

A Morristown woman and her son have admitted to embezzling a large church out of $1.5 million between July 2007 and April 2010, according to court records.

Barbara D. Whitt, 68, and Michael Dean Whitt, 42, have signed plea agreements that were filed last week.

They are scheduled to be in U.S. District Court in Greeneville on Friday to verbally enter the pleas and learn the date for a sentencing hearing.

The mother pleaded guilty to bank fraud and money laundering.

Her son pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to launder money.

Barbara Whitt served for 47 years as the financial secretary for First Baptist Church, which has a congregation of about 2,500. She and her son were indicted in November in a scheme in which money was taken out of the church's general fund account at a SunTrust Bank branch in Morristown.

According to court documents, Barbara Whitt lied to church officials about the reason for 1,650 checks drawn on the church's bank account in order to garner signatory approval. The checks signed by church officials listed the payee as "cash" for various expenses and fund transfers, but Whitt later added her own name as payee.

Michael Whitt deposited money embezzled from the church into pre-paid cards and took other steps to avoid currency transaction reports.

Items seized from home of PTO president in Virginia

The president of a local Parent-Teacher Organization is under investigation after $22,000 went missing from that group and another PTO she previously headed in Frederick County, court documents show.

Investigators with the Frederick County Sheriff's Office seized numerous items from the home of Shawn Bianco, 109 Georgetowne Court, Stephens City, on Friday afternoon, according to a search warrant filed Monday in Circuit Court. Authorities sought the warrant to search her house in relation to embezzlement, the document states.

Court papers identify Bianco as the president of the PTO for Robert E. Aylor Middle School, and state she served in the same capacity for the group at Bass-Hoover Elementary School. Bank certificates of deposit for $18,000 and $4,000 are now reported missing from the PTOs of both schools, according to an affidavit for the search warrant filed Wednesday.

Bianco has not been charged with any crime related to the investigation, court records show.

Catherine Young, the current president of the Bass-Hoover Elementary School PTO, spoke to investigator Tim Juergens on Friday, and explained that $18,000 in the form of a bank certificate of deposit was missing from the group's account, according to the affidavit. Young told the investigator Bianco preceded her as president and now serves in that capacity for the PTO at Robert E. Aylor Middle School, the affidavit states.

"[Young] stated that she reported the missing funds to Deborah Curtis who is the PTO treasurer and Deborah confronted Shawn Bianco about the missing funds and Shawn admitted to using the $18,000 to pay for her mortgage because she was going to lose her home," Juergens states in the affidavit.

Investigator Bryce Davis spoke to Curtis, who stated Bianco "admitted to her taking the funds," according to the affidavit.

"Deborah stated that Shawn told her 'your not going to find the CD, I took the money out, I cashed it, I had no choice, I needed the money to pay on my house, the bank was going to foreclose on it, My mom was sick and my child needed braces," the affidavit states. "Deborah stated that Shawn told her that she took the money 4 years prior and told her the money was gone. Deborah stated that Shawn said 'please don't tell anyone.'"

Davis spoke Friday to Aylor's principal, David Rudy, who identified Bianco as the president, secretary and treasurer of the school's PTO, according to the affidavit. Rudy checked and found the PTO was missing a $4,000 CD from the group's account, the affidavit states.

Young stated Bianco used a computer to generate all treasurer minute reports but that she has turned over no such records to the PTO as of that day, according to the affidavit.

Investigators seized a laptop and a desktop computer from the residence, along with miscellaneous documents from the Aylor and Bass-Hoover organizations, the Sherando Warriors Club, the Georgetowne Home Owners Association, a Disney World vacation, other papers and a black bag, the inventory shows.

Molalla woman pleads guilty in school group embezzlement case in Oregon

A Molalla woman was sentenced to 180 days in jail after pleading guilty on Friday morning to stealing about $10,000 from the Mulino Parent Group, which funds activities and purchases materials for Mulino Elementary School students.

Laurie Brinkman, 36, pleaded guilty to five counts of first degree theft before Judge Ronald Thom in Clackamas County Circuit Court. She had been arrested last October, but was out on release until sheriff’s deputies took her into custody Friday following her sentencing.

The charges stemmed from transactions from the MPG bank account that took place between March 1, 2009 and Jan. 5, 2010. As treasurer of the group, Brinkman had embezzled money from the group bank account, keeping a set of fake books, Deputy District Attorney Sarah Dumont said. Brinkman also stole money outright from a fall fundraiser and other school events.

Brinkman admitted to having a shopping problem and was thousands of dollars in debt when the embezzling began to take place, Dumont said.

“She became aware of the investigation and it was at that point she came forward,” Dumont said.

Brinkman paid the group back with almost $10,000 from her mother and urged the MPG leaders not to press charges, Dumont said.

Brinkman’s attorney, Tom Hanrahan, said his client acknowledges her crime and has since reformed her life and personally sought out counseling. Hanrahan requested a 15-day jail sentence combined with home detention and at least 360 hours of community service.

Instead, Judge Thom followed the district attorney’s recommendation of a 180-day jail sentence, plus 18 months of supervised probation, $116 in restitution to the MPG for bank fees related to the case and completion of criminal reform courses.

“Regardless of what addictions we may have, we’re still responsible for our behavior,” Thom told Brinkman. “You have violated a position of trust…Stealing from a community and especially children, I think the average citizen would agree is particularly heinous.”

Still, Thom acknowledged that Brinkman has indicated a willingness to change and he encouraged her to continue working with her counselor.

"If I didn't believe that people can change, I'd never last at this job," he said.

Brinkman wept as a sheriff’s deputy handcuffed her following the sentencing. She is now lodged at Clackamas County Jail.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sanford, North Carolina woman charged in church embezzlement

The president of a women's organization at a Lee County church is accused of stealing about $2,000 from the group's coffers, according to the Lee County Sheriff's Office.

Catherine Michelle Speagle, 38, of Badders Road, was charged Tuesday with embezzlement, according to Lt. Van Holly.

Speagle is accused of taking the money from the Jones Chapel United Methodist Church group between February and September 2010, Holly said.

The church learned of the missing money after an audit that was done in November, Holly said.

"They (church leaders) realized money was being taken out of an account without any receipt or explanation of where the money was going," Holly said.

Church leaders asked Speagle for an explanation, but she could not produce any receipts or documentation, he said.

"She said some of the money, she claims to have given on behalf of the church to charitable organizations," Holly said.

Church leaders contacted the groups only to learn that no donations from Jones Chapel had been received, according to Holly.

Investigators were able to account for about $300 of the missing money, Holly said.

Speagle, who is unemployed, had already been sentenced to 24 months of probation in August on an unrelated charge of obtaining property by false pretense and embezzlement, according to records from the N.C. Department of Correction.

Those charges were filed in April by the Sanford Police Department, a spokesman there said.

Speagle's bail was set at $25,000

Woman pleads guilty to PTA embezzlement in West Virginia

The former PTA treasurer at Sewells Point Elementary School in Norfolk pleaded guilty to embezzlement on Thursday, and was ordered to repay $7,004.83.

Joan Nicole Lee pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor embezzlement charge in Norfolk Circuit Court and avoided a felony embezzlement charge by terms in her plea agreement, according to the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office.

Between 2009 and May 2010, Lee's duties for the PTA included paying their bills which gave her access to the PTA's funds at BB&T.

According to court records, in May 2009, she opened a credit card in her own name that was tied to the PTA's funds. The card and unique pin number were maintained only by Lee.

The PTA's president did not discover the existence of the card until November 2009.

During this time period, the defendant used the credit card to withdraw money from the PTA's bank account through several ATM withdrawals. She also used it to pay for parts for a 2000 Volvo.

The total amount that was withdrawn was $7,0004.83.

Former priest charged with embezzling $400,000 from Reading, Pennsylvania church

jA former Catholic priest who once worked in Allentown, Bethlehem and Carbon County was charged Wednesday morning with embezzling more than $400,000 from a church in Reading, according to Berks County detectives.

Richard Nachajski, 64, of York, turned himself in Wednesday and was arraigned in Reading on charges of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received, theft by deception, theft by unlawful taking or disposition, receiving stolen property, forgery and securing execution of documents by deception.

He was released on $25,000 unsecured bail.

West Chicago deacon gets 6 years for embezzlement

The former deacon and business manager at a Roman Catholic parish in West Chicago was sentenced Monday to six years in prison for embezzling more than $317,000 from the church.

George Valdez, 58, of the 800 block of Gates Street, West Chicago, admitted in a plea agreement to writing unauthorized checks to himself and transferring money from the St. Mary’s Parish bank account into his own. He also used a parish credit card for personal expenses and failed to pay for a family insurance policy.

State’s Attorney Helen Kapas-Erdman said Valdez used the ill-gotten funds to pay for White Sox and Bears tickets, expensive dinners, hotel stays and his daughter’s wedding. The thefts, dating back to 2006, were uncovered during a financial audit in 2009.

“For more than three years, Mr. Valdez stole from those who had placed their trust and confidence in him,” DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said. “He betrayed that trust by lining his own pockets with funds donated to the parish.”

Kapas-Erdman said the church hired Valdez in 2006 because he was out of work. Within three months of receiving the “wonderful opportunity,” she said, he turned to stealing.

Valdez had faced six to 30 years in prison. At a court hearing attended by several members of his family Monday, he fought back tears as he apologized to God, his family and his church.

“He’s a good man who did something wrong,” defense attorney Nicholas Kirkeles said. “He wanted to provide things for his family and just wasn’t able to do it. He made a mistake and it started compounding.”

Valdez’s indictment last year came within months of another former St. Mary’s Parish employee, seminarian Alejandro Flores, being charged in Kane County with molesting an 8-year-old St. Charles boy whose family he met at the church. Flores later pleaded guilty in exchange for a four-year prison term.

Prosecutors said Valdez, who has been in custody since March 31, must serve at least half of his prison sentence. He also must pay restitution totaling $317,257, according to the state’s attorney’s office. DuPage Judge Kathryn Creswell will set up a payment plan after Valdez is released from prison, prosecutors said.

Doug Delaney, executive assistant to Bishop Joseph Siegel, said the Diocese of Joliet is self-insured and has already reimbursed St. Mary’s Parish for its losses. The diocese also added two auditors to its ranks, he said.

“Our prayers are with everyone involved in this,” Delaney said. “It’s obviously a difficult time.”

Sunday, February 6, 2011

PTA Embezzlement Investigation at PS 29 in New York

A former treasurer of the PS 29 Parent Teacher Association, Providence Hogan, is under investigation for embezzling up to $100,000 from the PTA, according to a published report.

Hogan also owns Providence Day Spa in Boerum Hill.

On Friday, parents received an e-mail inviting them to an emergency meeting tonight at 7 p.m. to address the issue. In the e-mail, PTA President Lauren Gottlieb said an "unauthorized transaction" was made from the PS 29 PTA bank account and was discovered while 2009 taxes were being drafted.

The meeting is being held at the school.

The investigation was first reported by The Daily News early this morning. At the school at 8:30 a.m. today, parents were tight lipped, but most seemed to be aware of the issue.

Prinicipal Melanie Raneri Woods stood outside the school saying good morning to parents and students.

"It's been reported to the authorities and we are cooperating," she said.

One member of the PTA with kids in the school, speaking on the condition of anyonymity, told Carroll Gardens Patch that Hogan didn't keep good records of the PTA's finances.

"The accounting was really off and none of the numbers added up," the source said in reference to a PTA budget meeting held at the end of the school year last year.

"But I never would have thought Providence was stealing money," the source added.

The PS 29 PTA raises large amounts of money each year and is holding a fundraiser tomorrow in Manhattan with the actress Lili Taylor, a local mom.

Hogan has a daughter in the fifth grade at PS 29.

Douglasville, Georgia Police Investigating Missing Money From Football Booster Club

Fans of the Douglas County High School football team cheered the Panthers on to a .500 record this year. But off the field is where the team and its supporters may have suffered a real loss.

Douglasville police said thousands of dollars are missing from the coffers of the Douglas County High School Football Booster Club. Many parents said they are shocked.

"I think they need to find out who took the money. That is wrong. If you raised the money, the money should be there regardless," said D Day, a parent with a child at the school.

Players said the team can't survive without the club.

"This year the booster club got us a new speed track machine, some new jersey's, some nice stuff. If the booster club is getting messed with, that could hurt the football team a lot," said Will Gay, a player on the football team.

The booster club is a nonprofit organization that has no official connection to the school or school district. The principal at the high school said she was surprised to hear about the problem.

"Some of the booster club members came to me earlier this year and said they thought there was some irregularities in the accounting. I advised them to make a police report," said Connie Craft, the principal at Douglas County High School.

Douglasville police said between $3,500 and $5,000 is missing. Detectives said they are checking bank records to see what happened to the money.

The team's supporters want something to be done.

"That is money that has been raised. It's like a charity. You are taking away from our kids," said Day.

"That means we got robbed. We raised all that money. That is all our hard work getting stolen from us," said Gay.

School PTO treasurer charged in $20K theft in Mississippi

A school bookkeeper who also volunteered as treasurer for the parent-teacher organization at Magnolia Park Elementary has been arrested on an embezzlement charge involving $20,000 in PTO money, police said.

Holly Harrison Fitts, 28, left her job at Magnolia Park on Monday and was arrested Tuesday, police Lt. John Flowers said.

PTO members reported money missing Monday afternoon, Flowers said, and pointed detectives to questionable bookkeeping practices.

Investigators determined the money went missing in phases over a six-month period that started in August.

“The victims ultimately are the school children,” Flowers said. “This was money from PTO fundraisers, like the Santa Workshop and Popcorn Friday sales, money intended to benefit the children at the school.”

The school is on Government Street.

Investigators questioned Fitts at her home in the 14100 block of Big Ridge Road in Biloxi, Flowers said, and booked her at the Ocean Springs city jail.

Municipal Court Judge Matthew Mestayer set bond at $10,000.

Police said they have recovered much of the money.

“She led us to it,” Flowers said. “It was not in a bank. It was stored loosely.”

School District Superintendent Robert Hirsch said no school district money is missing.

Although Fitts worked for the school, he said, she was a PTO volunteer because she has a child who attends the school.

“The school district does not handle PTO money,” Hirsch said. “We have so many checks and balances in the school district that it’s fairly difficult to do something like this with school money.”

“Obviously, the people who volunteer with PTO certainly don’t expect one of their fellow officers to do something like this,” Hirsch said, calling the incident “extremely unfortunate.”

“We are saddened by the fact that this also was a school employee and a parent,” he said. “It is rather embarrassing for us.”

Lake Oswego, Oregon parent, sport clubs embezzled for $84K

A woman who kept the books for a Lake Oswego parent group and two sports clubs was arrested Thursday on accusations of embezzlement.

Ranae Marlee Mason, 45, was accused of five counts of first-degree aggravated theft and one count of first-degree theft, said Lt. Doug Treat.

She was taken into custody after she was interviewed Thursday by Lake Oswego police, Treat said.

Mason reportedly said she was a certified public accountant as she volunteered to be treasurer for the Lake Oswego Junior Baseball organization, the Lake Oswego Youth Football League and the Lake Oswego Junior High School's parent-teacher association, Treat said.

Police believe she embezzled about $84,000 from accounts for those three groups into her personal bank accounts, Treat said.

The baseball group noticed irregularities and audited their books, noting that $5,000 was missing. That led to the other two groups reviewing their accounts. The football league was missing $51,000 and the parents club $30,000, Treat said.

Mason told police in the interview that she is not a CPA, and that she acted alone. She said the motive for the embezzlement was triggered by her unemployment a year ago. She reportedly used the money for living expenses.

Youth Football volunteer Chris Casebeer said “It is always unfortunate when something like this happens in a community. Lake Oswego Youth Football is cooperating with authorities to recover any money that belongs to our organization”