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American Legion barely survives its bookkeeper

A bookkeeper’s theft nearly caused the American Legion in Oak Harbor to go under after 81 years of existence.

W. D. Mayotte, the financial officer for the American Legion, said the post was close to closing its doors this year when their insurance company came through with a payment to cover part of the loss. An investigative auditing firm found that the post lost about $209,000 from the thefts and penalties because of unpaid bills and taxes, he said.

“Stealing is not good. But when you steal from vets, it’s kind of disheartening,” he said.

The bookkeeper, 41-year-old Kimberly Brown of Oak Harbor, pleaded guilty in Island County Superior Court Oct. 18 to two counts of theft in the first degree and one count of obtaining a signature by deception or duress.

Judge Alan Hancock went along with the plea bargain and sentenced Brown to seven months in jail. He ordered her to pay $1,218 in fines and fees, as well as restitution to the American Legion, an insurance company and Rue and Primavera Physical Therapy in Oak Harbor. The exact amount of restitution will be determined at a later hearing.

Mayotte said he wasn’t happy about the sentence, but he understands that the judge and prosecutors had little flexibility under state law.

Brown submitted a five-page affidavit to the court, explaining that she broke the law to help her children. She wrote that she became a single mother struggling to raise six children after her first marriage ended in divorce and her second husband was sent to prison.

“I have made every decision in the past 18 years with my children in mind,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, some of those decisions were not good.”

Detective Ron Hofkamp with the Oak Harbor Police started investigating the case in January after a member of the American Legion post in Oak Harbor reported that Brown stole money while she was the bookkeeper.

The post commander and finance director discovered in November of 2009 that the post had accumulated numerous overdraft fees from the bank and that many bills had not been paid. They fired Brown and hired another bookkeeper to audit the books for them.

The new bookkeeper immediately discovered large amounts of cash were missing from bank deposits.

While Hofkamp was investigating the American Legion case, a co-owner of Rue and Primavera Physical Therapy in Oak Harbor also reported an alleged embezzlement case involving Brown.

The report states that Brown would have the owner sign blank checks, saying it was for bills, and then write the checks out to herself. She gave herself raises as the bookkeeper. In addition, Brown was accused of taking cash rental payments.

A co-owner of the business wrote in a victim’s impact statement that the thefts nearly caused the business to close and the owners had to go without paychecks to make payroll.

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