Niles embezzlement suspect arraigned on more charges

Published 3:35 am Saturday, December 23, 2006

By Staff
From staff reports
NILES - The former Niles Community Schools bookkeeper fired last month for alleged embezzlement is now facing similar charges for stealing money from The Brian Parker Memorial Foundation, a press release from the local cancer research fundraising foundation stated.
Smith was arraigned Thursday in Berrien County Trial Court in Niles on felony embezzlement charges, said Kelly Travis, assistant prosecuting attorney for Berrien County. Smith will have a preliminary examination with prosecutors and her attorney Friday, Dec. 29 to try to “resolve the case”, Travis said. If an agreement is not made, Travis said Smith would a preliminary probably cause hearing Tuesday, Jan. 2.
James Mollison, a Niles attorney, board member and spokesperson for The Brian Parker Memorial Foundation, stated Thursday the board of directors recently learned Smith has been charged with embezzling more than $20,000 from the foundation. Smith was a member of the board of directors of The Brian Parker Memorial Foundation for the last 15 years and the foundation's treasurer for the past two years.
The Brian Parker Memorial Foundation raises funds for contribution to cancer research and treatment facilities, such as the University of Notre Dame and the University of Michigan, cancer educational grants to Lakeland Memorial Foundation and Memorial Hospital Breast Care Center and to local cancer patients and their families. The foundation was created by Niles residents Dick and Judy Parker in memory of their son, Brian, who died from leukemia in 1980 at the age of 14.
Smith, 63, of Niles, was charged Nov. 29 with felony embezzlement for allegedly taking at least $20,000 worth of school money while serving as bookkeeper for the Niles school district. She was an employee of Niles schools for more than 30 years.
According to court documents, Smith could face a sentence of up to 10 years and/or fines of $15,000 or three times the amount of money embezzled for the charges related to the Niles schools embezzlement case. Smith was released on $10,000 bail, part of which requires her to stay out of casinos and/or gambling establishments.
A November Niles police report stated Niles school officials first became suspicious when “irregularities” were found during a routine audit earlier this year. A press release from Niles superintendent Doug Law stated that on Oct. 24 the Niles Community Schools district turned over to Niles police the results of an internal and external audit conducted by James Scarpone, which revealed an irregularity in the school lunch account.
The court papers showed Niles police officers were told Nov. 7 by school officials that $64,300 of deposits from the 2005-2006 school year was “unaccounted for.” The documents also stated Smith was responsible for picking up, depositing and recording the deposits in question.
According to the documents Smith told officers Nov. 7 she “did not make the deposits correctly and kept the money for herself.” The documents also stated Smith told officers she used all the money to gamble in an attempt to repay the funds taken.
Mollison stated in the foundation press release that on Nov. 30 as media outlets began reporting on the embezzlement charges against Smith that the foundation's board of directors called a special meeting, at which time Smith was immediately removed from her position as treasurer and member of the board. Preliminary findings and financial information were turned over to the police at that time as well, the release stated.
The foundation also engaged the services of a certified public accountant to reconstruct and review the organization's books and bank accounts for the past two years to determine the actual loss suffered. Mollison stated, to date, the foundation could only report that losses are believed to exceed $20,000.
The foundation's primary source of funding is the annual golf outing, “The Brian”, held the first Sunday of August at Indian Lake Hills Golf Course. The foundation has no paid staff and virtually 100 percent of its donations are used to fight cancer and assist cancer patients.