Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sports organizations need checks and balances to prevent embezzlement

The president of Casper Youth Baseball received notices last April that the club’s utilities would be shut off immediately due to payments not being made.

Cindy Garvin checked the organization’s bank account and realized about $50,000 was missing.

“It was one of those gut-wrenching things, where you just go, ‘Oh my God, this can’t be real. Please be wrong,’” Garvin said during a phone interview Friday.

Garvin asked Casper Youth Baseball’s office manager, Caitlyn Tolliver, who handled the group’s funds, for financial records to complete an audit. Tolliver refused to provide the paperwork, according to documents filed in Natrona County Circuit Court in December, and she was fired.

Tolliver is charged with grand larceny for allegedly using the organization’s funds to make personal purchases and write additional paychecks for herself. She stole more than $65,000 from the group, police say.

“I don’t think it generally starts out as ill intent,” said Casper police detective Shannon Daley. “I think one day the bills are short and they need $500 to get to payday. But then they keep on borrowing and borrowing, until it’s nearly impossible to pay it back.”

Another local woman is facing charges that she stole thousands of dollars from the youth organization she worked for.

Katherine Sue Strom is accused of stealing more than $13,000 while she was the director of the Wyoming Youth Sports Association, according to court documents. She allegedly used the organization's bank account to make payments on her credit card and to purchase Kindle e-readers from Amazon.

The organization’s newly elected director contacted Casper police in March about the missing money. Strom was charged in October with two counts of grand larceny and two counts of misdemeanor larceny. She pleaded not guilty in December.

Neither Tolliver nor Strom had a history of fraud, Daley said.

A woman in Gillette, who was the treasurer for the Gillette Hockey Association for four years, was also recently accused of fraud. Micky Culey faces 10 charges of forgery and one charge of larceny, all felonies, according to an affidavit filed in Campbell County District Court in November. Culey allegedly forged checks using the name of an assistant coach.

How it happens

Daley said there are three factors that cause a person in a position of trust to steal money from the organization they represent: opportunity, rationalization and pressure.

The first factor is straightforward.

“If they’d never had access to the business’ checking account, they never would have had the opportunity to steal the money,” Daley said.

Rationalization can come in different forms. Daley said Strom rationalized taking the money because she had been director of the Wyoming Youth Sports Association for 10 years, but the role had only recently become a paid position. Before 2010, the director was a volunteer position. She asserted the checks she wrote herself were back pay for the years she was not paid.

Tolliver declined to be interviewed by police, Daley said, so she wasn’t sure how the woman had rationalized taking the money she took.

The third factor is pressure, oftentimes financial.

"'I won’t make it to payday,' for instance," Daley said.

Tolliver is accused of using Casper Youth Baseball’s debit card to purchase office supplies, a bicycle, a dog kennel, tires, license plates and toys. She allegedly used the account to make cellphone payments.

Tolliver also reportedly wrote a check to Mountain View Elementary School for $400, but the school asked the organization’s former president if the check was authorized, since Casper Youth Baseball is a nonprofit. The man told the school it was not. When approached, Tolliver told him she had accidentally written the check using the wrong bank account.

When authorized purchases go unnoticed or unpunished, the perpetrator develops a sense of invincibility.

“When they’re still not caught, it’s like, ‘Oh, nobody’s ever going to catch me,’” Daley said.

Casper Youth Baseball has amended their policies to prevent another employee from abusing the group’s finances, Garvin said. Five of their nine board members are new, and all major expenses now have to be approved by the board.

“Our customers will see a lot of differences this year,” Garvin said. “We are committed to our customers and giving value to the fees they pay to let their kids play baseball.”

How organizations can prevent it

Oversight is essential for stopping such crimes, Daley said.

Tolliver reported to the Casper Youth Baseball’s board of directors quarterly, and the Wyoming Youth Sports Association had annual meetings that Strom attended, but neither woman was ever required to show bank statements. There was no verification of the funds.

“It was just going off their word,” Daley said. “There was no oversight from other people.”

While it’s not unusual for businesses to have only one person doing the books, Daley said it’s wiser to have one person writing the checks and another person receiving bank statements.

“Having one person receiving money and depositing it and then reconciling the bank statements, you’re at risk of people being able to steal from you,” said Jody Shields, director of the Wyoming Nonprofit Network. “It’s just having more than one person involved in processing, paying and receiving funds.”

Diane Berg, president of the Casper Amateur Hockey Club, said the group’s board of directors must approve all expenses not included in the already-approved operating budget. The organization has a treasurer, who proposes additional expenses at monthly meetings with board members. Berg and three other executives for the club are the only ones with signing authority.

Shields said every nonprofit should take steps to ensure they have procedures in place to prevent an employee from exploiting group funds. That’s more difficult for small nonprofits with only one or two employees, she said, but her organization offers training and checklists for organizations to develop policies.

It’s expected that any organization defrauded by one of their own will feel embarrassed, Daley said, but they shouldn’t beat themselves up too much.

“I think it’s more common than is reported,” the detective said.

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