Saturday, February 22, 2014

Brooke County Board of Education Employee Accused of Embezzlement

A woman hired by the Brooke County Board of Education is facing embezzlement charges.

Authorities said Debra Ann Baker is accused of writing checks to herself from the United School Service Employee Association's account while she was the secretary-treasurer of the organization.

According to court documents, an investigation of bank documents revealed that during a 22-month period between Jan 1, 2012, to October 8, 2013, Baker allegedly wrote herself $26,400 in $600 checks.

When questioned about the incidents by police, Baker reportedly said she was having trouble paying her bills and had written the checks as an advance on her stipend, but she "ended up taking more later."

According to bank records, in July of 2012 alone, five $600 checks were deposited into Baker's account, with two deposits occurring on the same day.

Former youth baseball league president pleads guilty in NH to embezzlement

The former head of a youth baseball and softball league in the New Hampshire city of Concord has pleaded guilty to embezzling thousands of dollars from the association.

Robert Lachapelle was president of the Concord Northeast Baseball and Softball League from 2007 to 2011.

The Concord Monitor reports ( ) that he was accused of withdrawing $4,300 from the league account, twice through a fund transfer and a check.

The 55-year-old Lachapelle pleaded guilty on Friday to two felony counts of theft by unauthorized taking.

Under a plea agreement, he is expected to be sentenced next month to probation. Prosecutors say he also must pay back the money to the league and complete a county diversion program.

A former president of Concord Northeast Baseball and Softball League pleaded guilty yesterday to stealing thousands of dollars from the association during his tenure there.

The man, Robert Lachapelle, pleaded guilty in Merrimack County Superior Court to two felony counts of theft by unauthorized taking. As part of a deal with county prosecutors, he is set to receive probation and a suspended jail sentence next month.

Lachapelle was arrested a year ago and accused of withdrawing $4,300 from the league account in 2010, twice through fund transfers and once through a drawn check. The police said they began investigating Lachapelle in April 2012 when a league official reported concerns that funds had been misappropriated.

Lachapelle, who is 55, served as president of the league from 2007 to 2011. He also served as director of the Babe Ruth Softball 16U World Series in 2009, when it came to Concord.

In addition to suspended jail time, Lachapelle is expected to pay full restitution to the league and to complete a county diversion program, Deputy County Attorney Catherine Ruffle said. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 14.

Andy Kastle, the league’s sitting president, said he and others were “pleased that this long legal journey is nearing completion.”

“While the sentencing has yet to take place, the diligence of the Concord Police Department and Merrimack County Attorney’s office has led to this satisfactory point, and Mr. Lachapelle has taken responsibility through his plea,” he wrote in an email.

Kastle also reiterated what officials said when the charges were first brought: The league has tightened its control over receipts and instituted a more detailed record keeping process for expenditures.

“These unfortunate circumstances have led CNE to strengthen our financial controls and our sponsors and parents can know we are on solid footing,” he wrote.

Lachapelle and his attorney, John Draghi, declined to comment after the hearing. Yesterday was the last day they could enter a plea in the case.

Maine woman indicted on embezzlement charges

Winslow woman has been indicted on charges of bilking two youth sports teams.
Wendi Willette, 41, had pleaded not guilty in November to charges of stealing more than $10,000 from the Winslow High School Wrestling Booster Club over nearly three years starting in 2010 while she served as treasurer.
The indictment filed on Friday also accuses her of embezzling from the China Girls Field Hockey Team in September. Willette said Saturday that she had no comment on the new charge.
Town officials released a statement in November saying Willette was no longer involved with the field hockey program, the Morning Sentinel reported ( ).
The district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties had said recently that Willette had not been indicted because prosecutors had been negotiating with her hoping she could pay back what they say was stolen.
Willette was convicted in 2003 and in 2004 of negotiating a worthless instrument, which typically is a crime of passing a bad check.

Former synagogue director accused of embezzlement

The former executive director of Congregation Beth El in La Jolla has admitted to using his position to embezzle more than $390,000 from the congregation, according to statements made by leaders of Beth El.

Eric Levine had worked as Beth El's executive director from July 2007 to December of last year. During that time, the married father of two, who oversaw an annual budget of $2 million, allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the congregation and then covered up his illegal transfers, according to Beth El's president Sonia Israel.

When confronted with evidence of his alleged theft, which was uncovered a month-and-a-half after he left Beth El, "Eric confessed to violating our trust," Israel wrote in a letter Beth El's members. "He admitted that the deceptive record keeping and illegal transfer of funds was intentional. He then apologized and did not deny any of the accusations."

On Levine's 'LinkedIn' page, he boasts that during his tenure as Beth El's executive director, he "successfully navigated (the) organization's finances through one of the worst economic disaster(s) in U.S. history with 6 years of balanced budgets ($2,000,000 annual budget) and modest surpluses each year."

Last December, Levine left San Diego to take a new job as executive director of another congregation in the Washington D.C. area. In a letter to its members, his new employer, Adas Israel Congregation, had initially welcomed Levine, who's earned an MBA, as a "brilliant, seasoned" professional, as well as "a wonderful mensch all around."

Less than two months on the job, though, in light of these current allegations, Levine was asked last week to hand in his resignation.

In the meantime, Beth El's spiritual leader is asking how his community will recover from this alleged betrayal, stating in a letter to congregants, "We made serious mistakes in trusting Eric. We were victimized by a skilled liar. We will carry the brokenness with us for a long time."

CBS News 8 reached out to Eric Levine for comment. Reached at their home in Bethesda, Maryland, his wife said that they "have no statement at this time."

Beth El's leaders said they are now consulting with legal and accounting experts, in order to "determine how we will proceed with the authorities and the steps we will take to recover as much of the misappropriated funds from Eric as we can."

The congregation has also scheduled a special town hall meeting on February 26 at 7pm, to answer members' questions

Superintendent "aware of alleged embezzlement" in Booster Club

The possibility of $17,000 missing from the West Brook Booster Club funds and whether the club's former president had a hand in what might have happened to the money remained a question Monday as booster club members met behind closed doors at the interim president's home.

The interim president, Joey Hilliard, a candidate for Beaumont school trustee in District 7, on Monday had accused now former booster president William "Bo" Kelley Jr. of being responsible for the $17,000 in booster club money that Hilliard said was missing.

Hilliard had said the club treasurer discovered the club's account held just $500. Hilliard said Kelley had told him that he had taken it.

The Enterprise attempted to contact Kelley several times at his cell phone number, at his office telephone number and personally at his home. Kelley did not return the requests for comment despite voice mail messages.

Hilliard put off interview requests, saying he was "in a meeting." He said the booster club meeting Monday was "private" and would take place "at an undisclosed location."

The University Interscholastic League's guidelines are specific about booster clubs and their relationship with the schools they are supposed to serve.

"The superintendent or a designee who does not coach or direct a UIL contest has approval authority over booster clubs and should be invited to all meetings. All meetings should be open to the public," the UIL guidelines state.

Nakisha Myles, Beaumont school district spokeswoman, said Superintendent Timothy Chargois is "aware of alleged embezzlement of funds" and will be "rolling a path forward to protect funds raised for the students of BISD."

Arrest made in Bethany College Embezzlement

Authorities have made an arrest in connection with an ongoing Bethany College embezzlement case. According to Brooke County prosecutor Joe Barki, Rachelle Weese was arrested Friday as part of the Federal investigation. Barki says Weese is alleged to have blackmailed Shelly Lough into stealing more than $500,000 from the college. Lough worked as the school cashier and was indicted back in November on charges of embezzlement and falsifying accounts.   Lough told investigators from the beginning that others were involved, and blackmailed her into taking the money. The state and federal investigation is ongoing.  Stay with NEWS9 as we work to learn more.

Former McBain school secretary waives prelim in alleged embezzlement

 A former McBain Rural Agricultural School secretary waived her right to a preliminary exam Wednesday in Missaukee County’s 84th District Court on an embezzlement charge and is expected to be arraigned in circuit court sometime early next month.

Dawn Lynette Boonstra, 43, of McBain, has been charged with embezzlement by an agent or trustee of more than $1,000 but less than $20,000.

Boonstra had worked for the school system for 14 years but was fired from her position in December some time before Christmas break, according to Superintendent Mike Harris.

The matter came to the school's attention when a shortage in a fund was not enough to cover expenses. Boonstra allegedly embezzled funds that had been collected by student fundraisers.

Boonstra was represented in court Wednesday afternoon by attorney Mark Mitchell of Cadillac.

Standing in court, Boonstra quietly said, “yes,” when Judge Charles Parsons asked if she was aware that by law she was entitled to a preliminary exam in district court. The waiving of the preliminary exam means the case may move ahead to circuit court.

The investigation is being handled by the Missaukee County Sheriff's Department.

If convicted, Boonstra could face a maximum of up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000 or three times the amount in question.

Parsons agreed to continue terms of Boonstra's bond, which is a personal recognizance bond. Prosecuting Attorney William Donnelly Jr. noted Boonstra has no prior criminal history.

Mitchell declined to comment on behalf of his client.

Harris declined to comment other than to say the school administration has been working with the prosecutor's office in the matter.

“We are looking forward to a speedy resolution

Cheerleading coach charged with embezzlement

Lake Orion cheerleading Coach Nancy De Avila has been charged with embezzlement for allegedly using funds from a charitable organization at Lake Orion Schools for personal use.

The charitable fund was the Natalie Rae Nance Scholarship Fund. Money donated to the charity was to be used to provide small monetary scholarships to graduating Lake Orion High School students in the areas of art, cosmetology and cheerleading.

De Avila was arraigned in 52-3 District Court on Tuesday on a felony charge of embezzlement of a charitable group from $200 to $1,000. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, a $10,000 fine or restitution of three times the amount of money embezzled.

She also was arraigned on an alternate misdemeanor count of embezzlement of $200 to $1,000. It includes a fine of $2,000 or three times the amount of money embezzled.

Magistrate Maria Soma placed De Avila on a $10,000 personal bond with a provision not to have contact with the Natalie Rae Nance Scholarship representatives.

Lake Orion School officials said De Avila has resigned from her position at the district. She was the competitive cheer coach and the team was having a good season, winning the district championship on Saturday. She was named the District Coach of the Year.

The Orion Township office of the Oakland County Sheriff's Department began an investigation into the fund in December.

In November, organizers of the charity charged with managing the funds detected shortages and filed a police report after their efforts to look into the shortages were stalled by lack of cooperation from a fund member.

The two-month investigation found that funds from the charity were allegedly converted to De Avila's personal use over a three-year period. She was one of those entrusted with managing the fund.

The investigation found that checks from the funds were used to purchase goods and services and make payments on personal credit card accounts

The Natalie Rae Nance Scholarship Fund was established after Natalie Rae Nance died in an automobile accident in January 2006.

She was 21 years old and a 2003 graduate from Lake Orion High School. Shortly after her death, a scholarship fund was started by Natalie's parents.

The fund was established in memory of Natalie and would award monetary scholarships to graduating Lake Orion students in three areas: Art, Cosmetology and Cheerleading.

The fund was supported by donations with one main fundraising gala held every year in the Lake Orion Community.

De Avila's next court date is set for February 27.

A Lake Orion High School cheerleading coach will appear in district court Thursday after investigators say she embezzled money from a charity fund created for the team.

Nancy De Avila, 49, is charged with embezzlement from a charitable group — which could carry a penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine or three times the amount embezzled is she’s convicted of a felony in the case — and will appear for a pretrial in 52-3 District Judge Lisa Asadoorian’s courtroom.

The case reaches back to 2010, said Sheriff’s Orion Township substation Lt. Dan Toth.

“It went for three years unnoticed,” said Toth. “It wouldn’t have been noticed, either, because there were several instances where she would take money out of the fund for personal use and put it back in shortly after.”

De Avila, cheerleading coach at Lake Orion High School, took the money from a scholarship fund originally set up in 2006, deputies report.

The fund, named the Natalie Rae Nance Scholarship Fund after the death of former graduate Nance — 21 years old when she died in a tragic traffic accident — gave small amounts to exceptional students at the high school in the areas of art, cosmetology and cheerleading. It was supported by donations with one main fundraising gala held every year in the Lake Orion Community.

The investigation was launched in Nov. 2013, when scholarship organizers found shortages in the fund’s bank statements and filed a police report when De Avila allegedly stalled their efforts to look into why the money was missing.

Orion Township deputies’ investigation revealed funds from the scholarship had been converted to personal use over a three year period by De Avila, one of the managers on the account. Checks from the fund were used to purchase goods and services and make payment on personal credit card accounts without the knowledge or approval of the fund organizers, deputies said.

Toth added that once the investigation was brought to light, De Avila did make deposits before she was ultimately taken into custody.

“I think at one point, the fund account was down over $10,000, and several thousand dollars was returned, but the account is still over $1,000 short ,” Toth said. “Those final figures are still being looked at by investigators.”

Toth said it could come out in court what types of things De Avila may have bought with fund money, or whether she bought anything at all.

While De Avila is free on a $10,000 personal bond and cannot have any contact with Natalie Rae Nance Scholarship representatives, the Lake Orion High School cheerleading team has a state finals competition scheduled for this weekend in Grand Rapids. An interim coach will be leading the team, school officials said.

Lake Orion Schools Superintendent Marion Ginopolis was not immediately available for comment on De Avila’s track record with the school, but Orion’s Lt. Toth said that “by many accounts, she was a good coach.”

Former Clay Co. school employee arrested in grand theft

 Clay County detectives believe a former bookkeeper stole at least $57,000 from the elementary school where she worked.

Julie Herringdine, 37, is charged with schemes to defraud, grand theft and uttering forged instrument.

Herringdine was a former bookkeeper at J.L. Wilkinson Elementary.

Detectives started investigating the alleged embezzlement when the school district reported that the school's checking account was overdrawn.

A district worker presented detectives with paperwork that showed Herringdine turned in and was paid refunds for money that was not owed to her. Detectives report the paperwork was and receipts were counterfeited to show that money was owed to Herringdine. Also, the refund paperwork had forged signatures of the principles that were in charge of Wilkinson Elementary at the time of the theft.

Detectives said Herringdine claims to have purchased items for the school with her own money  and then submitted paperwork for refunds

School worker charged with embezzlement

A Brooke County Schools employee has been charged with embezzling from the trade organization of which she was secretary-treasurer.

The West Virginia State Police charged Debra A. Baker, 61, of 130 Scenery Hill, Wellsburg, with the crime for allegedly taking about $12,600 from the U.S. School Service Employees Association of West Virginia between January 2012 and October 2013.

According to court documents, Baker and two other officers with the group, which represents school service personnel in West Virginia schools, each are entitled to a monthly stipend and Baker cashed checks intended for another officer.

State Police said Baker confessed to the crime, saying financial difficulties led her to take the funds with the intention of replacing them.

Baker has been a secretary for Brooke County Schools' transportation department for 11 years.

Kathy Kidder-Wilkerson, the school district's superintendent, said Baker has been placed on leave until the case is resolved. She said Baker's position didn't involve her handling any of the school district's funds.

Baker's case is pending in Brooke County Magistrate Court.

Former pastor sentenced in Lake County church embezzlement

A former Lake County pastor has been sentenced to three years in state prison for embezzling an estimated $100,000 in cash and property from his church.
Bruce Anthony Stark, 63, of Stockton, was handcuffed and taken into custody Tuesday after the sentence was handed down, said Lake County Deputy District Attorney Sharon Lerman-Hubert.
Stark, who served as pastor of the Hilltop Apostolic Church in Clearlake from 2002 to 2008, had pleaded guilty in December to one count of grand theft, she said. The plea could have resulted in a sentence that ranged from probation to three years, Lerman-Hubert said.
Members of Stark's former congregation were thankful for the sentence, which was warranted, she said.
“It's hard to imagine a more egregious crime, stealing from one's own church,” Lerman-Hubert said.
Stark's wife, Shanell Stark, the church's one-time treasurer, previously pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, Lerman-Hubert said.
Bruce Stark's thefts included cash, a van and land parcels that belonged to the church, Lerman-Hubert said. He reportedly borrowed money against the property.
Stark has claimed he spent most of the money on the church

Friday, February 14, 2014

Former PTA treasurer arrested, charged with embezzlement in Hampton

A woman has been arrested and charged with embezzlement in Hampton, police tell NewsChannel 3.
The woman, 48-year-old Tammie Brown Boyd of Hampton, was the PTA treasurer of Paul Burbank Elementary School.

Boyd was arrested on February 7, 2014. She is charged with one count of embezzlement (felony).
Police say between June 13 and August 13 of 2013, Boyd allegedly embezzled more than $3,000 from the PTA. Hampton police were contacted by the PTA after some discrepancies were seen in their account, police say. PTA members had been contacted by various vendors advising that their checks were bouncing.

After retrieving bank documents, police say it was determined that there were 26 unauthorized transactions in excess of $3,000.

Boyd was subsequently arrested without incident; she turned herself in to police.
The investigation continues and additional charges may be forthcoming, according to Cpl. Mary Shackelford of the Hampton Police Department.

Tammie Brown Boyd volunteered at Paul Burbank Elementary School, helping the children there.
Police believe the now former Parent Teacher Association treasurer also helped herself to thousands of dollars from the PTA's bank account.

"Anytime you have something that happens of this nature, it is, of course, a disappointment," said PTA President Rebecca Henderson. "We're making sure that we handle it to the best way that we can, just to make sure that we continue to be support our kids, to support our PTA, and to support our school."

The PTA contacted Hampton Police Division after the group's checks started bouncing. A review of bank documents showed 26 unauthorized transactions totaling more than $3,000.
Detectives believe 48-year-old Boyd stole the money between June and August of 2013. She turned herself in February 7. Police charged Boyd with 1 count of Felony Embezzlement.

"When you get in there, and you start building rapports, and you have camaraderie, just, actually, the Burbank Pride, you just hate to hear something like that," Russell Jensen told 13News Now.
Jensen and his wife have a daughter who attends the school. They also volunteer at Burbank.
"Highly disappointed, because it is a team over there, and we are a community that tries to raise the kids as a group," explained Jensen. "You know, there was probably a need for the money somehow, but you just can't take from children."

Police said they are continuing to investigate the situation and that more charges against Boyd could be coming.

Philly charter school CEO gets three years for embezzlement

The former CEO of a Philadelphia charter school was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for stealing funds from the school.

Masai Skief, 32, pleaded guilty last year to embezzling $88,000 from the Harambee Institute of Science Technology Charter School and a related nonprofit, the Harambee Institute. After signing the plea agreement, prosecutors said that Skief kept stealing money from the Harambee Institute. In all, he took an extra $12,000, they said.

Prosecutors said that led them to ask for a longer sentence than the 21 to 27 months they originally sought.

"He just continued to help himself to money for men's clothing, for his girlfriend. He got a hotel room for her. He had his car repaired," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Lappen. "He basically just treated the institute's money as his personal piggy bank."

Until recently, Skief said, "I went through spells of ignorance and deflection and even some arrogance." He told U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond that, though it may be hard to believe, he is now truly sorry for his actions and their impact on his loved ones.

"Worst of all, I let down my family," he said. "And the worst was setting an awful example for my 15-year-old son."

However, Judge Diamond did not grant Skief any leniency for pleading guilty, noting, "He kept violating and kept violating and kept violating."

In addition to his prison term, Skief must pay $88,000 in restitution and serve three years of supervised release after his imprisonment. During that time, he cannot work at the Harambee Institute or charter school.

KIPP New Orleans charter school employee embezzled $70,000, audit says

An employee of New Orleans' second-largest charter school network embezzled $69,840 in the 2012-13 academic year, according to an audit released Monday. The money has been recovered, the employee was fired and a criminal investigation is underway, KIPP spokesman Jonathan Bertsch said.

Short for "Knowledge Is Power Program," KIPP New Orleans educates 3,755 students, or 8 percent of New Orleans' public school enrollment. It will open its sixth school this summer. The network received $37.4 million in public money in 2012-13, according to the audit report.
The fired employee worked in the organization's central administration office and took two checks in April 2013 from batches waiting to be sent to vendors. The second time, the employee signed on to a co-worker's computer and created the check herself.

The theft was discovered when the vendors asked why they hadn't been paid. KIPP administration reported the matter to the police, bank and insurance company. The employee admitted to the theft and was immediately fired.

Auditors said the theft could happen because the accounts payable department both created and mailed checks. Management has since changed procedures so signed checks are sent out by people who are not in the accounts payable department.

Bertsch would not name the employee, a woman, citing the criminal investigation. There was no interruption to any programs, he said. The network conducts background checks on all its hires.
"We want to spend every dollar that we can on educating our students," Bertsch said. "We're very grateful to the support and the work done by the NOPD on the theft."

Also in the audit, examiners found clerical errors involving $3,155 billed to a federal school improvement grant. In several cases, payroll expenses did not line up with an employee's salary, or the wrong percentage of employees' time was charged to the grant. A total of $414 in costs did not have the right supporting documentation.

In a written response to the state, KIPP Finance Director Renae' Montegut said there was a complete turnover in accounting staff. A new staff member submitted grant reimbursement requests without knowing an employee's salary had changed. Some of the accounting was handled by a temporary employee who has since been replaced by "an experienced grant accountant" who is being trained by the Louisiana Association of School Business Officials.

Overall, the auditors recommended that KIPP assess its staffing needs and consider hiring more employees. Bertsch said KIPP brought in consultants to conduct a policy and procedure review. Now "we're fully staffed in our finance and accounting team," he said, and "we have a lot of confidence in their ability to do this work."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Former church secretary indicted for embezzlement, fraud in Mississippi

The former secretary of the First Baptist Church in Pontotoc has pleaded not guilty to charges she took over $500,000 from the church.

The Pontotoc County grand jury handed down the four count indictment against Laura L. Franklin, 64, of Pontotoc.

Franklin is accused of taking money and other property for her own use from the church.

She is also accused of issuing a check for more $500 for her own use and using the church's credit cards to buy Ole Miss football tickets.

Court documents say the total amount in dispute is $537,277.74.

Franklin entered the not guilty plea during a hearing in Lee County Circuit Court.

She is currently free on a $25,000 bond.

Two of three search warrants thrown out in SRJC embezzlement case

A Sonoma County judge Wednesday threw out two search warrants leading to the arrest of a former Santa Rosa Junior College police officer accused of embezzling $287,000 from campus parking machines.

Judge Ken Gnoss said the warrants requesting GPS monitoring and credit report information for Jeff Holzworth, 52, were obtained illegally.

But Gnoss said there were sufficient grounds for a third warrant to search Holzworth's Santa Rosa home, his pickup truck and his police car, where prosecutors said they found enough evidence to make their case against him.

“I still have everything,” prosecutor Amy Ariyoshi said at the end of a multi-day hearing.

Holzworth and his lawyer declined to comment outside court. They argued all the warrants should be tossed because they were based on tainted information from fellow officers. They are expected to try to exclude some bank records from future proceedings.

The next hearing is Friday.

The ex-campus officer who oversaw the parking machine program is charged with taking currency and coins over an eight-year period. He came under suspicion when other officers reported seeing him with bundles of $1 and $5 bills and collecting money from the machines at odd hours.

He was arrested in November 2012. His wife, Karen Holzworth, 49, was later charged with being an accessory. A trial for the couple has not been set.

Jeff Holzworth, a 28-year veteran who retired a month after he was arrested, faces possible prison time if convicted.

10 Ways to Stop Church Embezzlement in its Tracks


I was saddened to read about a neighborhood church, where my kids used to attend youth events, being yet another victim of church embezzlement.
All you have to do is go to your search bar and type in ‘church embezzlement’ and you will find many headlines:

Woman pleads guilty to embezzling $300 from Church;
Manlius church treasurer’s husband arraigned on embezzlement charges;
Treasurer convicted and sentenced for embezzling over $110,000 from church bank accounts in California;
Church bookkeeper gets 3 years for embezzlement;
Largest South Korean church’s embezzlement scandal just got worse;
And the list goes on and on. According to Brotherhood Mutual,
“Church crime continues to grow – estimated at $100 million each day. Increasing at an annual rate of nearly six percent, researchers expect church financial fraud to reach the $60 billion mark by 2025.” With about 80 percent of all cases of church fraud being unreported, this is staggering!

So what the heck is going on? Are churches really this mis-managed?
The concept of a trusted bookkeeper, treasurer or money counter stealing from the church is simply counter intuitive for those of us who embrace Christian principles. We are the church. We trust people, we love people and we give people the benefit-of-the-doubt. That’s what we do.

The reality check, for those in church leadership, is the realization that easy access, no controls and personal need (or justification) are all stepping stones to church fraud. We all want to believe that the sweet lady who diligently keeps the books would never steal, but the reality is if the conditions are right, embezzlement is inevitable and once it begins it becomes a slippery slope.

It starts small, maybe one of the counters slips a ten dollar bill into his pocket, no one finds out and then it becomes a little easier to muster up the nerve to do it again. No one finds out so they try again. These examples are merely holes in the armor and demonstrate a lack of management and control.

10 Ways to Stop Church Embezzlement in its Tracks

1. Policy and Procedures
The first step in any effort of control is to write policies and procedures. Spend some time thinking through how your organization would like to control the handling of, and access to, church funds. There should be clearly stated policies for things like cash handling, two-person accountability, rotation of counters and a commitment to auditing – just to name a few. The more eyes on the books, the more likely it will be for someone to notice irregularities.

2. Training
Employees and volunteers who help with counting the offering, or assisting in the church office, should be trained at least annually on the policies and procedures that relate to church funds. Included in this training should be the measures that the ministry takes to safeguard its financial resources. This simple step will make would be perpetrators think twice because they will see that the organization is diligent in its efforts to protect its resources.

3. Audits
Church audits are expensive, there is no question, but it is critical that the church takes the steps to conduct thorough church audits on a regular basis. These audits should be done by an independent outside auditor. This is another step that alerts someone that the books will be reviewed and that misappropriation of funds will be discovered.

4. Rotation
Volunteers and employees who help with counting the offering should be rotated on a regular basis. No one should stay in the role indefinitely and the use of multiple, unrelated people will make it more difficult to skim dollars from the offering.

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5. Safes
Cash and checks should be kept securely in a locked safe until it is delivered to the bank. Get a safe with a drop slot so that it doesn’t require someone to open it to make a deposit into it. Have a policy that the safe is only opened by two people and the combination is limited to a few people who do not have a key to the room the safe is kept. These simple security measures will help to control your risk.

6. Two-Person Rule
The cash handling policy should have a strict two person rule, stating that there will always be a minimum of two people when cash is handled, counted or transported. The two people should not be related and should not have personal financial issues.

7. Background/Credit Checks
In today’s society it is only wisdom to perform a background check on all church employees and volunteers but people who have access to church funds should also be subjected to a credit check. While this practice may seem a little invasive, this simple step can provide information that can ultimately protect the church. As with all sensitive information, strict confidentiality practices should be used.

8. Watch for Warning Signs
There are many signs you can watch for but a few to think about are:
Only one person has access to offering, cash, checks and check log.
Person with access doesn’t take vacations and guards against someone else doing their job.

Person with access is living beyond their means.
Person with access has personal financial issues.
It is difficult to get financial summary from responsible person.
There is inadequate supervision of person(s) handling cash.

9. Act on Suspicion
If you have a gut feeling, take the time to investigate and act on your instincts. Solicit help from a trained fraud examiner to help you sort through your suspicions.

10. Supervision/Management
Church leaders are responsible for managing operational practices within the church. Whether that oversight is of employees or volunteers, it is critical to have good supervision of those who deal with church funds. Our natural leadership tendency is to empower people with the freedom to work independently, but when it comes to church finances, that leadership principle should be thrown out the window. Enforce the practice of keeping church financial records in the church office. Make your presence known, ask questions and insist on timely financial reporting. Management and supervision is a crucial aspect of financial controls.

Churches could not exist without the generous support of its members. Those who embrace the Christian principle of giving, trust that church leadership will be good stewards of their money. These countless cases of church fraud and embezzlement speak to the critical need for church boards and leadership to wake up, do their job and safeguard God’s money. I challenge you today to call a meeting and discuss this critical issue with your leadership team.

What practices does your church use to safeguard against embezzlement?

Former IW Education Association leader arrested on embezzlement charge in Virginia

A Smithfield woman who once led the Isle of Wight County Education Association was arrested Monday on a charge of embezzling $43,248.48 from the local organization’s account.

“Stephanie Bailey brought herself in,” said Smithfield Police Department’s Lt. Patrick Valdez about the event that day.

He said that John O’Neil, director of communications for the Virginia Education Association, had contacted the Smithfield police, which followed up with an investigation.

“Her claim was she gave the money to the homeless and students in need,” said Valdez. That money came from dues that Bailey had been collecting, he added.

“But she won’t give any names. I think that’s going to be the crux. She was unable to answer satisfactorily. Had she receipts… but she’s unable to account for any of it.”

Bailey, who served as president of the Isle of Wight Education Association from 2006 until August 2013, was released on her own recognizance.

Elizabeth Stahlman, of the Suffolk Magistrate’s Office 5th Judicial District, explained that means a person signs a document swearing she or he will appear in court on an appointed day.

An arraignment for Bailey is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, in Isle of Wight County General District Court.

O’Neil emailed a press statement in response to questions from The Tidewater News.

“We have learned that Smithfield police recently arrested Stephanie Bailey, a former officer of the Isle of Wight Education Association, on charges that she misappropriated Association funds.

“We consider the charges to be very serious. The VEA initiated an internal inquiry last fall that led to the subsequent investigation by the Smithfield Police Department. We have fully cooperated with their investigation. Any further action will be determined by the prosecutor’s office.

“VEA will continue to work with the local Association to ensure that its assets are protected, and we anticipate reimbursement of funds from our insurance carrier. No school or tax dollars are involved.

“All Association members in Isle of Wight should know that they will continue to receive all of the member services they rely upon, such as advocacy and representation, professional training, and more.

“At present, we can have no further comment on the issue.”

The county school system also had limited reaction.

“The Isle of Wight County School division has no involvement in this situation,” said spokeswoman Kenita Bowers. “Due to state code and school division policy, we are unable to comment on this matter.”

Bowers did confirm that Bailey had been a school nurse at Windsor High School, and was working as such when the arrest occurred. She’s no longer an employee.
 The former president of the Isle of Wight Education Association has been charged with embezzling more than $40,000 of the group's funds.

Stephanie Bailey was arrested Monday for allegedly embezzling $43,248.48 from the Isle of Wight Education Association, an independent professional group for schools employees, between January 2011 and August 2013, according to Sgt. Chris Meier with the Smithfield Police Department.

Meier said Bailey, who served as the local association president from 2006 until her resignation in 2013, never denied taking the money and told police she was giving it to the needy.

"Basically what she's saying is she gave it to homeless people, she gave it to teachers who were in need and some of it went to student scholarships," Meier said. Police, however, were unable to verify where the money went once it left the local association's accounts.

There's no proof (of Bailey giving it away), she won't give us names of students she gave scholarships to, nothing," Meier said.

Bailey could not be immediately reached for comment.

Bailey was a school nurse, most recently at Windsor High School, and had been with the school division since 1991. Isle of Wight Schools officials confirmed that Bailey is no longer employed by the school division but could not discuss details related to her departure.

Ted Warner, the director of the Virginia Education Association office that coordinates the local associations of nine southeastern Virginia counties, said in a statement that the VEA considers the charges to be "very serious." He said the group launched an internal investigation last fall. No school or tax dollars were involved, according to Warner.

Meier said the VEA brought the case to the Smithfield Police in December. He said the group had become aware of a series of unauthorized withdrawals from the local association's accounts going back to January 2011, which continued on a nearly monthly basis until August 2013.

After an internal investigation and efforts to reconcile the withdrawals with Bailey, the group handed over hundreds of bank documents to the Smithfield Police, Meier said.

An arraignment hearing for Bailey has been scheduled for Feb. 13 in Isle of Wight General District Court. If convicted, she faces as much as 20 years in prison.

VEA officials could not say definitively how long Bailey had been the head of the local association. John O'Neil, VEA's communications director, said she had served as president for "several years" before resigning in 2013.

The position is now open and there is no timeline for filling the post.

Note: The Isle of Wight Education Association, an independent advocacy group, should not be confused with the Education Foundation for Isle of Wight Public Schools, a non-profit corporation directly affiliated with Isle of Wight Public Schools.

Former high school dance coach charged with embezzlement in Michigan

 A former high school dance coach is accused of trying to sidestep the law when collecting money from her team.

Patricia Lee Daraban, 22, of Flat Rock was arraigned Jan. 22 on an embezzlement charge before 33rd District Judge Jennifer Coleman Hesson.

The charge is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

A preliminary examination of the evidence against her is set for Feb. 25.
According to police, Daraban is accused of embezzling more than $21,000 of school funds in the Woodhaven-Brownstown School District.

Police said Daraban had checks in her possession that she tried to manipulate and use for her own benefit.

According to Deputy Police Chief Robert Matthews, police confronted Daraban with the allegations Aug 26, 2013.

Matthews said the next day Daraban attempted to make full restitution.

By that time an investigation already was underway and there was evidence that a crime may have been committed.

The evidence was presented to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, which brought forth the charge.
The district, along with the Brownstown Township Police Department, began investigating accounts under Daraban’s supervision back in August.

According to Mark Greathead, school superintendent, district officials became aware of alleged illegal activity in connection with the dance team when vendors began calling and questioning unpaid bills.

The superintendent said the dance coach was hired through a third-party contractor.

That company was contacted and told her services were no longer wanted at the school, according to district officials.

During that same time frame, Zac Stevenson, the district’s athletic director, resigned.

Greathead said Stevenson is not suspected of any wrongdoing and his resignation was a mutual agreement.

Stevenson was responsible for athletic department activity at that time. The dance team is under the auspices of the athletic department.

A trip to Orlando in January 2013 involving a dance competition and an overnight dance camp in July of 2013 are among the events under investigation, according to Greathead.

“It’s difficult to say (exactly) how much money we are talking about,” Greathead said. “We are trying to get to the bottom of it.”

There are 10 girls on the dance team. Each, according to district officials, gave Duraban money to participate in the dance competition, as well as the camp.
The girls also were involved in several fundraisers and that money was turned in to the dance coach.

“She had been with the district for about four years,” Greathead said. “There were a few parents who questioned where fundraiser money was going, but other than that there were no complaints about her.”

The superintendent said parents questioning fundraising money is not all that unusual.

A new dance sponsor has taken over the team.

“She has stepped up for the girls and they have been quite successful,” Greathead said. “They closed the season out last week as state champs in division two in varsity pom. Their hip-hop routine took third place in the state. They are a very talented group of girls.”

Jim Kalisz, who was the district’s previous athletic director, has taken over those responsibilities on an interim basis.

Greathead said the district is in the process of setting up interviews for hiring a permanent athletic director. A total of 64 candidates applied for the job.

“I’m impressed with the number of applicants, as well as the variety of experience they have,” Greathead said. “There are a lot of quality candidates.”

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Defendant in church theft case skips court

A Hopewell woman accused of stealing upwards of $500,000 from Chester United Methodist Church will not have her day in court quite yet.

Jerri Hunter, 39, was scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 16, but when her case was called before Judge Steven McCallum at Chesterfield County Circuit Court, her defense attorney Russell Bowles said she was not going to appear.

Hunter’s attorney explained to the court that he received what he called a “desperate” phone call that morning. Hunter was on her way to Southside Regional Medical Center with a medical emergency.

Hunter was arrested on July 29 in Suffolk. Local authorities said she stole the money over the course of several years while she was employed as the church’s financial administrator.

Hunter was charged with 14 felony counts of embezzlement. Further investigation into the stolen funds revealed Hunter had been stealing the money over a period of several years. According to court documents, Hunter stole funds at least once a month from July 12, 2012, to May 17, 2013.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Fierro Jr. expressed his doubt after Bowles said his client was not going to appear. Fierro said he questioned whether or not Hunter was being truthful and was especially skeptic given the seriousness of the crime.

“I do have concerns,” Fierro said. “She stole an awful lot of money, and with the latest developments, I don’t know what to make of it.”

Fierro continued, noting Hunter had previous convictions out of Oklahoma and upon further examination of the evidence from the case, the money that was stolen “had ties outside this community” and some of the funds were taken outside of the state.

Though doubts were made known, Bowles assured the court Hunter had no reason to lie about her medical state to evade from appearing in court. He said Hunter had planned to enter a guilty plea to the charges before her on that day.

“There really wasn’t a reason for her to be afraid,” Bowles said, also telling the court she is on medication for anxiety. “... I just don’t think this is a ruse.”

Judge McCallum said a new date will have to be set for Hunter. He also ruled that a show cause had to be issued for her failure to appear before the court that afternoon. McCallum also told Bowles he would need to see medical proof that Hunter was in fact in the hospital at the time of her scheduled court date.

Hunter’s trial date was re-set for March.

Former teacher union official sentenced for embezzlement

Former union official Lisa Barrett wept as her sentence she was sentenced Friday, shoulders heaving deeply as she learned a judge’s mercy still meant she will spend a year of her life in prison.

“I had planned to give you more time,” U.S. District Court Judge James Munley told Barrett, 48, of Shavertown, the former president of the Wyoming Area Teachers Union who pleaded guilty in October to embezzling nearly $60,000 using union debit and credit cards to support a lifestyle of shopping, travelling and dining.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years’ probation. Munley sentenced Barrett to 12 months in prison, two years’ probation and $2,600 in fines and fees.

As Barrett sobbed, Munley told her written and verbal statements given by relatives, friends and colleagues about Barrett’s character factored into his decision.

Those supporters variously recalled a young woman who put herself through college after her father died, a sibling who cared for an ailing sister, the mother of a teenage son, and a suffering woman being treated for mental health issues.

“Looking at you, hearing the people here and considering all the people who hold you in high regard, I changed my mind and gave you a lesser sentence,” the judge said.

“I’ve also considered your son. I am aware of the fact that you and your former husband share custody,” the judge said.

Violated a trust

But Munley also made plain that Barrett had violated a position of trust, earning her a place among a catalogue of corrupt Northeastern Pennsylvania officials who have made headlines for all the wrong reasons, from judges and county commissioners to school board members and Little League officials.

“These are crimes. They are thefts. They are embezzlement,” Munley said. “You know, what I am concerned about is that we sent the right message so we discourage persons from abusing their positions of authority.”

Barrett, a high school career technology teacher, resigned her position as union president and requested a sabbatical from work in February at the same time Luzerne County District Attorney Stephanie Salavantis confirmed her office had agreed to look into reports of missing funds.

Barrett is no longer a teacher or a union member.

Her crimes occurred between 2007 and 2012, prosecutors said, describing purchases from department stores and restaurants, as well as on family trips to Virginia Beach, Va., and Ithaca and Cooperstown, N.Y.

$59,273 in restitution

She has paid $59,273 in restitution, defense attorney Christopher Powell said.

“I accept full responsibility for my actions,” Barrett told the judge. “In my quest to please everyone and gain acceptance, I became overwhelmed.”

Barrett, who has the right to appeal, according to Munley, did not speak to reporters after leaving court.

“You’d have to ask Judge Munley what he was trying to do, but to me, that sentence is severe enough to send a message,” Powell told reporters, adding that his client is “very upset.”

“I understand the sentence,” Powell said. He and Barrett had hoped for a lesser penalty, but acknowledged “it was within the guidelines.”

Current Wyoming Area Education Association President Melissa Dolman told the judge that the union accepted the restitution that has been made.

The judge pointed out Barrett may actually have taken as much as $90,000, according to early estimates, and that the amount recognized by investigators was all that could be documented because of union record-keeping. Dolman acknowledged the group “never had an audit done.”

“That’s not saying much for the union,” Munley retorted.

Dolman told the judge, and later reporters, that procedures have changed, and there is now an audit committee.

Barrett has until March 5 to surrender herself to federal custody. Officials did not say where she might be housed.

“I’m sorry, but you have to pay the consequences, you know?” Munley said, sighing before he spoke his final words to the trembling, sobbing Barrett.

“Good luck to you. That’s it.”

he sentence - one year in federal prison - shocked and devastated Lisa Barrett.

"Oh my God, what I am supposed to do?" Barrett screamed out, sobbing and clutching her sister, just after Friday morning's court hearing ended.

A former teacher for the Wyoming Area School District, Barrett had pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $59,000 from her union while serving as union president.

Barrett, 48, illegally used a union debit/credit card on various illegitimate purchases over six years to improve her "personal lifestyle," U.S. District Judge James M. Munley said, releasing new details on the embezzlement charges.

"I am sorry. You have to pay the consequences," Munley told Barrett, who must surrender to federal authorities by March 5.

Munley said he was "concerned about sending the right message" to anyone entrusted with access to public funds or funds for community and employee organizations.

According to the judge, Barrett illegally used the debit/credit card to make cash withdrawals for personal use; buy meals at local restaurants; make retail purchases at Lowe's, Dick's Sporting Goods, Target and Cape May Sandals; and fund trips with friends and family to Cooperstown, N.Y.; Ithaca, N.Y., and Virginia Beach, Va.

Barrett lives in Kingston Township and shares custody of her 13-year-old son with her ex-husband. She ignored the media when exiting the William J. Nealon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Scranton.

She and her attorney, Christopher T. Powell Jr., were expecting a less-severe sentence because of her cooperation with authorities and willingness to pay $59,273 back to the union in restitution.

"You'd have to ask Judge Munley what he was trying to do, but to me, that sentence is severe enough to send a message," Powell said.

In court, Munley said he was planning to impose a more-severe sentence before he heard from Barrett and her brother in-law. When addressing the judge, Barrett apologized to union members and her family.

"I accept full responsibility," she added.

Last February, Barrett resigned as president of her union, the Wyoming Area Education Association, and took a leave as a career-technology teacher, citing "personal and medical reasons." The school board accepted Barrett's resignation as a district teacher at its Aug. 20 meeting.

Her salary as a teacher exceeded $74,000 a year. She started teaching for the district in 1996.

Barrett entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in September, and did not reach an agreement on a sentence.

Also in September, Barrett submitted a request to the Public School Employees' Retirement System to obtain her pension-fund contributions over the years plus interest. The agency has not processed her application, agency spokeswoman Evelyn Tatkovski said.

According to Barrett's divorce settlement in 2010, her former husband agreed to pay her a sum of $600,000, waived his interest in their Kingston Township home, agreed to pay all mortgage bills and debts on the property and agreed to pay $1,300 a month in child support until their son become 18. The Kingston Township property has an assessed value of $444,700, records show.

Barrett started embezzling union funds in 2006, authorities said. The union and its parent organization, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, could not conduct a forensic audit to determine the exact amount of how much was embezzled because receipts were not available, the current union president, Melissa Dolman, told the judge in court.

The union has made procedural changes in reviewing expenditures to prevent officials from embezzling funds in the future, Dolman said. Union members have been working under an expired collective bargaining agreement since 2010 and went on strike this past September.

The strike interrupted four weeks of school and had to end to allow the completion of 180 school days by June 15. An arbitrator's decision to try to resolve the collective-bargaining dispute is expected this month.

Booster Club President Charged With Embezzlement

Guilford Police say the president of the Guilford High School Boys’ Lacrosse Booster Club is charged with embezzling more than $4,100 from the organization.
42-year-old Ann Marie Ranfone of Guilford was charged with larceny and released on bond.
Police say they received a complaint last month from the principal of Guilford High School.  Their investigation determined the theft had taken sometime in the previous six months.

NE Kansas children's choir trying to replace funds lost to alleged embezzlement

A group of northeast Kansas children is scrambling to come up with money to fund a trip to Colorado after a trusted adult was accused of stealing thousands of dollars from their travel fund.

Glen Irwin was charged last week with felony theft after roughly $10,000 was found to be missing from the Geary County Children's Choir's bank account, the Junction City Daily Union  reported. Irwin used to be the choir's business manager.

The choir had been selling candy bars and performing around Junction City to raise money for the trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado, scheduled for after the end of the school year.

"It's a shock to the kids because they spent a lot of hours fundraising," said Greg Gooden, director of the children's choir. "It's sad someone would take money from children. That's really what he did."

The complaint filed Thursday accuses Irwin — who was a member of the fundraising committee for three years and served as business manager for one — of stealing money between Jan. 1, 2012, and June 8, 2013.

The total cost of the trip is $35,000. The choir was unable to make the first payment of more than $8,000 in January because of the theft. The choir now must make a double payment to the tour company in February.

"Prior to Christmas vacation, we noticed there was money missing and I questioned him through emails and texts," Gooden said. "He finally agreed to meet with us and he lied to us."

Gooden said Irwin claimed to need the money for liver cancer, but that turned out to be untrue.

Irwin is being represented by the public defender's office in Junction City, which declined to comment Tuesday morning.

Gooden said he was told the money would be replaced, with interest, by Jan. 13, but that never happened.

"We may get some of that back with restitution, but that may be a long process," he said.

Meanwhile, the 60 choir members continue rehearsing and are scheduled to perform in February for the Kansas Music Educators Association. In addition to fundraising, each child already paid $250 for the trip.

"We're going to go on and make the best we can out of this situation," Gooden said.

Former Girl Scout Leader Suspected of Embezzlement

Redlands Police have arrested a Girl Scout Troop leader they suspect used $5,000 of the scout’s money to buy a number of personal items including a computer, officials announced today.

Michelle Marie Villa, former troop leader with the Moreno Valley Girl Scouts, is suspected of embezzlement.

Investigators say she used the troop's debit card to purchase groceries, craft supplies, athletic gear and a computer and printer, between July 2012 and July 2013, according to Redlands Police spokesman Carl Baker.

Staff at the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio headquarters in Redlands reported their suspicions to Redlands Police in December 2013. Detectives served a search warrant at Villa’s home on Jan. 23, and, according to officials, recovered evidence. Villa was arrested the same day but has since has been released on $50,000 bail, officials said.

Chesterfield school teacher arrested, accused of stealing from school and students

A Chesterfield County Public Schools teacher is arrested, accused of stealing from her school, other teachers and students.

Julia C. White, 51, is charged with felony embezzlement, larceny with intent to sell/distribute stolen property, burglary, three counts of grand larceny and two counts of petit larceny.

The teacher has been removed from O.B. Gates Elementary School by the school system.

Police say some of the property White stole from the school and students has been recovered, including one of several rugs. Police say she also stole baby wipes, teaching aides, books, and school supplies.

From the outside looking in you would think that Julia White had it all. We went by her home in Midlothian today with hopes of speaking with her husband - no one was home and White herself is still behind bars.

Police told us today they are still trying to find a clear motive.

"Some of the types of items she stole were books, school supplies, teaching aids, right down to baby wipes with children's names on them," Grohowski said.

Police started looking into the case after being tipped off by an administrator at O.B. Gates Elementary School. Police interviewed witnesses, victims, and White herself.

They then obtained warrants and eventually charged White with several crimes, including felony embezzlement, larceny with intent to sell or distribute stolen property, burglary and grand larceny.

Shawn Smith with Chesterfield County Schools released this statement about the incident saying:

"These are very serious charges and the employee has been removed from the school. The employee will not return to the school pending the disposition of the charges and the administrative process."

We were in court Tuesday when White appeared for the first time before a judge. She was denied bond but did ask for arrangements so she could get her medication.

Police say they have recovered some of the items, but are still looking to recover other things like a rug similar to this one.

"We are asking citizens if they have either purchased this rug from this lady through a yard sale or on the Internet or just one on sale, please call us," Grohowski said.

Police are still working this case and say it is possible for more arrests to come. Julia White's next court appearance is scheduled during the first week in April.

Former Easton church treasurer stole $300K

A former treasurer of an Easton church is expected to turn herself in to police Thursday on charges she stole more than $317,000 from First Presbyterian Church over at least seven years to pay personal bills.
Police on Wednesday issued an arrest warrant for Ann Marie Ballentine, 51, of the 3000 block of Oregon Street in Palmer Township, that lists charges of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds, theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property.
An arraignment on the charges has been scheduled for 9:45 a.m. Thursday in district court.
Court records state that church leaders told police this month that Ballentine had been stealing money instead of paying church bills since at least June 2006, the earliest the church's bank, National Penn, had photographic records. The thefts continued until October, police said.

Church leaders approached Ballentine in November and she admitted taking the money, court records state.
In a Jan. 16 interview with police, Ballentine "admitted to having taken the money for the sole purpose of paying her monthly personal bills," the affidavit states.
For nearly 10 years, Ballentine served as treasurer at First Presbyterian, 333 Spring Garden St., current treasurer Charlie Young said.
"It's a large amount of money for us," Young said of the alleged embezzlement and the pending charges. "We're torn as a Christian organization."
Young said that Ballentine, who has been a longtime member of the church, resigned as treasurer in November.
Young said the church underwent a redevelopment project about a decade ago and incurred a large debt, and although the church was meeting its financial obligations, it was a "struggle."
Ballentine worked in the Easton Area School District as a special education teacher at the 7/8 Middle School building, Superintendent John Reinhart said. "She is currently on leave and not teaching," he said in an email.
Ballentine could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Former City Clerk in Havana, Kansas Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement

A former city clerk for the city of Havana, Kansas pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzling funds from the city and from her church, United States Attorney Barry Grissom said. She agreed to pay restitution of approximately $14,658 to the city of Havana and $44,568 to Cross Point Baptist Church. Diana L Cox, 67, Havana, Kansas, pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of wire fraud. In her plea, she admitted embezzling $14,658 from the city of Havana while she was working as city clerk.

On August 18, 2011, she presented documents to the Arvest Bank in Caney, Kansas, falsely stating that the Havana City Council had voted to change its policy to require only one signature on checks written for city business. She also admitted that while she was treasurer of the Cross Point Baptist Church she devised a scheme to defraud the church of approximately $44,568. On December 30, 2011, she caused the church to electronically transfer approximately $2,536 to Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance to make a mortgage payment due on her daughter’s home. Sentencing is set for April 16.

She faces a maximum penalty of 30 years and a fine up to $1 million on the bank fraud count and a maximum penalty of 20 years and a fine up to $250,000 on the wire fraud count. Grissom commended the FBI and Assistant United States Attorney Mona Furst for their work on the case.

Former Knightdale PTA president found guilty of embezzlement

Former Forestville Road Elementary PTA president Juli Ann Williams was found guilty of embezzling the PTA’s funds last week after a four-day trial.

Williams, who did not testify, was arrested last March when Knightdale Police concluded that she embezzled $4,129 in PTA funds she reported stolen from her car in September 2012.

It was the second embezzlement charge against Williams. In October 2012, Knightdale Police charged Williams with embezzling $1,500 from the school after auditing the PTA’s financial records and discovering the money had gone missing on July 20.

Altogether, police say, Williams took $5,629 from the organization.

She pleaded not guilty to both charges.

In court, Williams’ attorney Stephen Driggers said she took the first $1,500 because she thought the amount would cause tax problems for the organization. That money, the defense claimed, was returned.

The remaining money was stolen from Williams’ car in a Walgreens parking lot while she was on her way from the school to the bank, the defense said. That money was never returned.

Williams will have to pay $6,629 in restitution by Jan. 17, 2018.

UVM employee pleads guilty to embezzlement

A former University of Vermont employee has pleaded guilty to embezzling from the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese, where she provided administrative support.

Jody Farnham, 55, of Burlington, who co-wrote a book on cheesemaking, pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzling at least $185,000 over six years ending in 2012, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Court documents say she was accused of altering tuition checks from enrollees in the cheesemaking program to make herself a co-payee and then depositing them in her bank account. She also stole some cash tuition payments and misused UVM credit cards for personal purchases, federal prosecutors said.

The embezzlement took place when UVM had received substantial amounts of federal funding, the U.S. attorney’s office said. The case was investigated by UVM police and the FBI.

Farnham, who was released on conditions, faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when she is sentenced in June.

Fraud is alleged at church in North Carolina

The Lee County Sheriff’s Department has begun an investigation in response to alleged embezzlement after a complaint was filed this week by officials at Grace Chapel Church.

The complaint alleges two specific fraud charges, one involving embezzlement and the other obtaining money/property by false pretenses. According to the complaint, the amount of money taken from the church was estimated as being up to $200,000. The complaint alleges the embezzlement took place “from 2007 to (the) present.”

Grace Chapel, located at 2601 Jefferson Davis Highway, is one of Sanford’s largest churches. The church’s affiliated ministries include Grace Christian School and Grace Christian Child Development Center.

Bill Carver Jr., the headmaster of the school who’s been serving as operations director at the church since November, made the complaint to the sheriff’s department on Thursday, although the date of the incident is listed as Oct. 30, 2013. On Friday, Carver said his personal knowledge of the details about a possible embezzlement was limited, and that the official investigation “has just started.” Carver said he feels it is best not to comment about the circumstances since the matter is now under active investigation.

The incident report provided by the sheriff’s department doesn’t list any individual names in connection with the investigation, and Sheriff Tracy Carter said Friday that his department was just beginning its work on the complaint.

“It’s a possible embezzlement case going back several years, and we’re going to be investigating it,” he said.

Back in November, Carver and current interim pastor Joel Murr described in a story in The Herald some of the challenges faced by the church in the wake of the departure of long-time pastor Rudy Holland. Holland said in the same Nov. 9 story he resigned during Grace’s worship service on Nov. 3 after 15 years at the church, retiring from the ministry because “it was time for the church and me to make a change.”

Murr told The Herald the church had struggled financially following fire in 2004 that destroyed the sanctuary and the economic downturn that began in 2007.

“We projected a certain amount of growth as far as numerically, people, which also projects you bring in more with tithes and offerings,” Murr said. “Unfortunately, in 2007, when we came into this building, ... the economy tanked.” Murr further described the church’s financial problems as “not something that has happened this month, or this year. It’s something that, we found out, thousands and thousands of churches and businesses have gone through — the same type of problems.”

School board faces questions about principal and money management in Vermont

A few residents attended the Readsboro school board meeting on Monday, hoping to get answers following the arrest of former principal Michael Heller on embezzlement and larceny charges. But there was little the board, WSSU superintendent Richard McClements, and WSSU finance chief Karen Atwood would comment on. Members of both the board and the WSSU expressed concern about jeopardizing any part of the ongoing legal proceedings, or facing legal action should they provide speculative information.

School board chair Larry Hopkins did, however, say that the school would be seeking retribution for the over $4,500 that was misappropriated. “The short answer is yes,” said Hopkins, “but how we’re going to get there I don’t know yet.” Hopkins also said the board has not been informed as to what degree they’ll be involved with the court case.

One resident, Cherrie Giddings, worked on the production of the school play “Yes, Virginia,” for which the school had received a $1,000 grant from Macy’s. “My concern is that I worked on the play, and we received a $1,000 grant,” said Giddings. “A lot of people had to do extra work and use their time and volunteered and donated time because there was no money, yet there was money, but someone else got it.”

“There are a couple other instances where people may have had money come up short,” responded Hopkins. “If we get the money back we’re going to take steps to make sure everyone is taken care of.” Hopkins also said that it was too early to tell whether Macy’s or Lowe’s, which gave the school a $5,000 grant, would seek retribution.

“We have to wait until the investigation and the court play out first,” said board member Dana Rapp. “If there was malfeasance, this board would want nothing more than to balance those accounts.”

Molly Frost asked how the alleged embezzlement went unnoticed. Hopkins said a previous superintendent had advised the principal on how to open a bank account independent of the central office, and over time it lost the oversight of the WSSU. “The two people involved with starting it are not here, and this is how it ended.”

Because of the detailed nature of the investigation, as well as the court case currently in progress against Heller, McClements said that he was told not to expect an expedited court process. “We can’t tell you about these things,” said McClements. “We can’t get into those kinds of discussions. All you need to know is that it was turned over to the police, they’re investigating, and the Agency of Education is also investigating. It will play itself out and I believe there will be justice. I know you want to hear more and I know you want to hear details but we can’t.”

McClements did assure that there would be no more principal-controlled grants or accounts and all grants, invoices, bank statements, and purchase orders will go through the WSSU central office.

As for the $200 in lunch money that Heller is accused of stealing, Hopkins said that he wasn’t sure that the money’s disappearance could be pinned on anybody. Atwood said that after the money started to disappear, steps were taken to deliver the money to the town office sooner.

Atwood also said an audit was not finished on the grants received because they could not find evidence of the grant revenue being received.

“Even if it hadn’t turned out the way we found it, there would have been a red flag in the audit report saying ‘Where is this money and have you received this money?’ said Atwood. ‘If so where is it?’ It would have come up eventually.”

“It’s more about looking backward at what we could have done differently and about being vigilant,” said Rapp. “If, through the court proceedings, the principal is found guilty, I think we need to think as a board about how much faith we had in this man. I think we need to be a little more critical.”
Former Readsboro Central School principal Michael Heller pleaded not guilty in Bennington Criminal Court on Monday to a felony charge of embezzlement, and the theft of approximately $200 in student lunch money.

Heller, 40, of Fairfax, pleaded not guilty to embezzling over $4,000 from two separate grants that equaled $6,000, one from Lowe’s for school security improvements, another from Macy’s for a production of “Yes, Virginia.”

Heller resigned as principal of RCS at a school board meeting on December 16, 2013, after less than two years on the job. According to an affidavit written by state trooper Lauren Ronan, in that time, Heller is accused of diverting $4,536 in grant money for personal use out of the “principal’s account,” a bank account that Heller kept at People’s United Bank, unbeknown to the Windham Southwest Supervisory Union’s central office. This “principal’s account” is where the school district began to unravel Heller’s alleged activities.

According to the affidavit, the investigation began after WSSU superintendent Richard McClements contacted state police on December 19, 2013, to report that the school district as well as the Readsboro School Board suspected Heller had misused funds awarded to the school through grants. McClements made the report after he and WSSU business manager Karen Atwood conducted a five-week investigation into what they suspected was the misappropriation of funds at RCS.

The suspicions arose when Atwood ordered an internal audit of school expenses in November, after discovering that money from three grants had been deposited into the principal’s account. Atwood became suspicious after $94 given to the school by Target had been deposited into the Readsboro School Activity Account, which is monitored by the district’s central office.

According to the affidavit, after finding out about the principal’s account, for which Heller was the only signatory, Atwood confronted Heller and asked him to provide bank statements and the transaction history of the account. Heller took several weeks to supply this information, as well a list of items he had bought for the school, but the purchases listed did not match the bank statements provided by Heller.

Readsboro Town Clerk Amber Holland was asked by the Readsboro School Board to look at the “principal’s account” as a neutral third party. Holland compared transaction histories supplied by Heller with transaction histories provided by the central office, and also looked at bank statements between May and November 2013. Holland contacted two vendors for information pertaining to two separate purchases and concluded that the amount purchased from these vendors did not match the information submitted by Heller, according to Ronan.

According to the affidavit, Heller provided an invoice from May 15, 2013, in which he purchased $1,499 in security equipment from Lorex. The invoice provided by Lorex was for a total of $464.44. The other invoice was from June 6, 2013, when Heller spent $2,590 at Qualified Hardware. The invoice from that company totaled only $763. Another invoice Holland looked at was for $937.34 spent on for a wireless headset system. According to the bank statement, only $159.52 was actually spent on a cheaper model.

Heller provided computer-generated invoices from Qualified Hardware and Lorax, complete with the items purchased, their total cost, and the company logos. According to Ronan, these invoices didn’t match the computer-generated invoices provided by these companies. “It was obvious by the information provided to me that Heller had made up the invoices in an attempt to cover up his personal purchases,” said Ronan.

Heller’s alleged embezzlement activities spanned a six-month period in which 61 transactions were made. According to court documents, the purchases begin in May 2013 with two transactions, one at Anchor Seafood, the other at Rite Aid. In June, Heller made 17 transactions, 10 of which were for $100 or more. These purchases were made at Walmart, Pet Meds Corp. and the Days Inn Hotel, while six transactions under $100 were made at gas stations, Dunkin’ Donuts, Christmas Tree Shops, Home Depot, and Price Chopper. Ronan mentions one legitimate transaction in June for $763 for security equipment at Qualified Hardware.

In July, the number of transactions reached a peak at 18, with 13 for purchases under $100. Heller allegedly made purchases again at Price Chopper with cash back, as well as purchases at gas stations, convenience stores, and hardware stores. Transactions of over $100 included one at Killington Lodge, and multiple cash withdrawals. Another legitimate purchase of security equipment was made in July as well.

In August, nine transactions were made, four of which were cash withdrawals of over $100, while in September, six transactions of under $100 were made at convenience stores, gas stations, and Rite Aid.

Fifteen transactions were recorded in the month of October, 14 of which were under $100, and in November, six transactions were made including cash withdrawals and gas/convenience store purchases.

In all, Ronan said that of $6,094 deposited into the account, $1,060.51 was used for security equipment at the school, and $4,536.02 was used for personal purchases and withdrawals. In an interview with Ronan on January 6, Heller admitted to misappropriating the grant money, as well as forging transaction receipts and bank histories. According to the affidavit, “Heller advised he had every intention of placing the money back into the account,” with money received through the Wings after-school program as well as operating his own lawn care business during the summer months.

During his interview with Ronan, Heller said he took the funds because he and his mother both suffer from health issues, causing them financial strain. Heller said he had given his mother approximately $1,046 to help her pay off nearly $1,500 in motor vehicle fines as well.

As for the lunch money, Ronan conducted interviews with the school’s secretary Patricia Kidney, who said she began to suspect Heller of stealing student lunch money during the 2012-2013 school year, when small amounts of money began to go missing. Kidney said that students and parents would drop off lunch money at her desk, which she kept in an unlocked location, and turned in to the town office on Fridays. As the totals began to come up short, Kidney said she supplemented the shortfalls with her own cash, and when she approached Heller about the missing money, he advised her not to worry, saying the Power Lunch Program, a QuickBooks type of program, would even the money out. Kidney said that one time she had found a students’ empty lunch money envelope in Heller’s desk, after Heller claimed he had put it on Kidney’s desk.

Heller has denied stealing any lunch money. According to published reports, Heller’s attorney, David Silver, said that there is no evidence placing blame on Heller and that the person responsible for the money should be the prime suspect in its disappearance.

Heller told Ronan that he was aware of the lunch money theft from the previous school year, but not from the current one.

McClements said that insinuation is neither believed nor supported by the WSSU and the school board. “We want to be clear in that we believe she (Kidney) had absolutely nothing to do with the misappropriation of any funds,” said McClements. Over the course of her investigation, Ronan also contacted a former employer of Heller’s, the North Carolina public school system. Ronan spoke to a former supervisor of Heller’s, Ron Villines, who claimed that several items Heller had put as his responsibilities on his resume were not true. He also said that Heller had once run an expensive field trip for students in which he collected between $500 and $1,000 and failed to follow school protocol in handing in the money. Villines said Heller instead kept the money in his desk and one day “it all went missing,” and they never found out who was responsible.

According to published reports, Silver said the police information about Heller’s previous job is likewise irrelevant, and that there is no information regarding the missing money or of Heller ever being suspected of its disappearance.