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Investigators: Former financial chief at North Idaho Habitat for Humanity stole $50K, then stole from Georgia food bank

The former financial director of Habitat for Humanity of North Idaho has been jailed since December on suspicion she stole money from a Georgia food bank, and investigators believe she may also be responsible for bilking the Hayden-based nonprofit of more than $50,000 before that.

Julie Anne Nutter, 54, has been in custody in the Bibb County Jail since Dec. 6, facing 11 counts of felony theft, according to court records. The Macon Telegraph newspaper reported last week that the charges stem from suspicions Nutter used the credit card of the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank to make fraudulent purchases at businesses that included a body waxing studio, a spa, a tire store and “an Idaho flower shop.”

Nutter took the job in Georgia after a nearly three-year stint with the Habitat for Humanity of North Idaho, which she left in June 2017. Investigative reports filed by the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office indicate that officials in Hayden raised concerns in December 2017 about potential thefts totaling $57,045.

Nutter, who served as the nonprofit’s chief financial officer, was suspected as the only employee who could have stolen the cash. Investigators believe she deposited money into her own accounts rather than those belonging to Habitat for Humanity after examining the nonprofit’s books and bank accounts belonging to Nutter.

The investigation took nearly two years. A Kootenai County warrant was issued for Nutter’s arrest in November. By then, she had left the Georgia food bank.

The Kootenai County district court case against Nutter was placed under seal, according to the clerk’s office.

James Casper, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of North Idaho, declined in an email to comment on the “ongoing legal issues” surrounding Nutter, citing the advice of legal counsel. Casper also said that once Habitat for Humanity alerted the sheriff’s office to the fraud, it was asked by law enforcement not to make any public statements so as not to interrupt an ongoing criminal investigation.

The food bank based in Macon, Georgia, where Nutter previously worked, issued a statement indicating a background check conducted before she started her employ there raised no red flags and that insurance would likely cover the losses. Investigative documents in Georgia did not say how much money is believed to have been stolen from the food bank, according to the Telegraph.

The Kootenai County investigation began after an employee, whose name has been redacted in released investigative records, reported bookkeeping irregularities to a sheriff’s deputy in December 2017. A detective working on the case wrote in his report that the nonprofit’s new financial hire was told not to tell any other employees about the theft and that Habitat for Humanity had hired its own forensic investigator to determine how much money was stolen. That investigation was not complete until March after a new sheriff’s detective had been assigned to the case, according to investigative records.

Embezzlement cases require in-depth investigation before they are handed to a prosecutor, said Lt. Ryan Higgins, a spokesman for the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office.

“These kinds of cases take a long time to build probable cause to issue a warrant,” Higgins said.

A 2018 study by Hiscox Ltd., an international provider of business insurance, found that a majority of embezzlement cases last at least two years before they’re discovered. That same survey found that less than half of embezzlement cases result in criminal charges, and only 58% of those charges ended in conviction.

The Kootenai County Prosecutor’s Office asked for additional follow-up information before it would support issuing a warrant, according to the investigative record. The deputy in the case talked to two coworkers, whose names are redacted in the investigative report and who denied taking any money. One said she would frequently go to lunch with Nutter, who on several occasions had the charity’s bank deposit bag in her car when they would leave.

The coworker “said this was strange as common practice was to make the daily deposits near lunch time, not at the end of the day,” according to the report. The forensic analysis showed unusual cash deposits to Nutter’s bank account that matched almost dollar-for-dollar the amount of money missing from Habitat for Humanity’s accounts.

Nutter remains in custody in Georgia in lieu of a $16,700 bond.

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