The former treasurer of the Springboro Athletic Boosters Association admitted Thursday to stealing almost $440,000 from the group he helped found 20 years before.
But Thomas Harves, 61, of Springboro, was unaware of how much he had embezzled from the group, which he continued to hold in high esteem, his lawyer said after a hearing in Warren County Common Pleas Court.
“He had no idea how much he’d actually taken,” lawyer Charles Rittgers said. “He still talks like he’s very proud of the boosters and what they’ve done for the community.”
Harves, supervisor for a paint contractor, admitted taking $439,455 converted to cash or diverted to his personal account through checks written at a local bank from 2004 until June 2012, when he was confronted by other club officials about discrepancies in the club accounts.
Harves pleaded guilty to aggravated theft, a third-degree felony, in a bill of information also filed Thursday, culminating a year-long investigation. He answered questions from Judge James Flannery in court, but referred reporters to Rittgers.
“He’s obviously very sorry,” Rittgers added.
A week after being confronted, Harves paid the club $143,309.43, bringing to more than $280,000 the amount he repaid into club accounts, according to authorities.
The club then notified Springboro police, triggering an investigation by local police and examination of what Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell called “eight years of poorly documented transactions” by a forensic accountant with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.
On Thursday, Judge James Flannery told Harves he might avoid jail if he is able to pay $157,883.73 in restitution. Rittgers said relatives were expected to help Harves make full restitution.
Investigators were only able to trace what Harves did with about $150,000 of the stolen money.
“He would pay his mortgage. He would purchase firearms and do things of the like,” Fornshell said. Roughly $280,000 converted to cash was untraceable, Fornshell said.
Harves, recently inducted into the Springboro Sports Hall of Fame, helped found what started as a small community group and grew to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the sports programs in the Springboro school district. Harves alone reviewed the bank accounts, Fornshell said.
“This organization did not have in place the cash controls that would have picked up this activity,” Fornshell said.
The Internal Revenue Service revoked the group’s non-profit status for failing to file in three consecutive years.
The group and school board have since added controls and policies designed to ensure fiscal integrity. The group is working to reinstate the status, required for donations to qualify for tax deduction.
“The boosters are committed to our main objective: supporting Springboro athletes. We look forward to working with the Springboro community to ensure our athletic programs are the best they can be,” the club board said in a statement.
In light of this and other similar cases, Fornshell said he and the county’s police chiefs were putting on a seminar at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 25, at the Warren County Administrative Center, for officials with community groups handling money. The Ohio High School Athletic Association has held special sessions on booster club finances.
“This case illustrates why board members of any organization should closely examine their accounting and bookkeeping procedures and implement safeguards to prevent embezzlement from occurring,” Fornshell in a statement.
Harves remains free on personal recognizance, while awaiting sentencing.
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