Looks can be deceiving.
While authorities call nonprofit organizations notorious targets of embezzlement, a children’s football league in Spokane had its own defense weapons: two certified accountants, one of them a reserve officer with the Spokane Police Department, who happen to be in charge.
Diann L. Brown, a former treasurer for the Pop Warner Football League, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Spokane County Superior Court to a second-degree theft charge related to more than $13,000 that went missing from the organization between January and June.
The case against Brown, 49, hinges on an investigation started by Steve Larsen and Heather Meyer, of the Spokane accounting firm Larsen Financial.
Larsen, the reserve officer, started the football league in 2005. Meyer has been involved since before its first season in fall 2006, court papers show.
Neither returned calls seeking comment. Brown could not be reached.
Brown was appointed treasurer in January 2007, but it wasn’t until the following spring that suspicious activity arose on the organization’s bank account, according to a statement of facts prepared by Spokane police Detective Stacey Carr.
“They got right on it,” Carr said. “They presented it to me in a way that I could go after it.”
After receiving a call from a bank representative, Larsen discovered checks written to Brown that were never authorized by the organization, according to police.
Brown was removed from the board of directors, then wrote an e-mail to Larsen in June: “If you think I did anything wrong or inappropriate with the funds for Pop Warner,” she wrote, according to Carr’s statement, “… if you feel I owe Pop Warner any money, please give me an amount and I will gladly pay it.”
Two days later, Brown told Larsen she had grown overwhelmed with responsibilities and “started paying for items with her personal checkbook and reimbursing herself,” according to the detective’s statement. Brown promised to bring in receipts, but Larsen never heard from her and filed a police report a month later.
Brown later told detectives that she’d used the money to pay off bills to save her credit and that she’d intended to pay it back, according to Carr’s report.
Carr was assigned the case last summer just as a similar investigation into theft at Mid-City Concerns Meals on Wheels was wrapping up. That organization’s former managers, Cheri Mataya-Muncton and Rachelle Solomon, are accused of stealing more than $80,000 over several years. Each is awaiting trial in Spokane County Superior Court.
Larsen’s and Meyer’s attention to their football league’s case sets it apart from other nonprofit embezzlement cases, Carr said.
“They’re there to do good things, so it’s harder for them to recognize fraudulent activity by people that they care about,” Carr said of nonprofit managers. “But Steve and Heather, having a different perspective in life, just jumped on it.”