Questions remain in booster theft case

The Springboro Athletic Boosters expect to recoup almost $440,000 embezzled by its former treasurer, but authorities said the full amount lost by the group supporting the school district’s athletic programs may never be known.

Former Treasurer Thomas Harves’ pleaded guilty earlier this month to aggravated theft of $439,4555 from the community group he helped found 20 years ago.

“It could also be the tip of iceberg,” Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said said last week.

School board Vice President Jim Rigano said there are many questions about the incidents.

“That’s more than half their budget that was stolen right from under them,” Rigano said.

Warren County Common Pleas Judge James Flannery advised Harves, 61, of Springboro, that he might avoid prison if he comes up with $157,883 — the last portion of loss calculated by a forensic accountant from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation

Rigano and Board member David Petroni, who pressed for accountability by school booster groups after taking office in January 2012, said the amount Harves admitted stealing likely failed to fully account for the losses.

Fornshell acknowledged the loss could have been much larger, noting bank records only went back to 2004.

“Do I believe he was stealing prior to 2004? Absolutely I do,” Fornshell said. “Can I prove it? No.”

Fornshell also said the investigation failed to prove statements from witnesses suggesting Harves handled “large sums of cash” from concessions or events, such as casino nights, that were never tracked or documented.

He also said authorities would never know if Harves pocketed the cash.

Harves’ attorney challenged authorities for proof.

“That issue never came up during the investigation. I’m not aware of any cash being taken, other than via the checking account,” said Charles Rittgers, Harves’ lawyer. “That’s just conjecture on their part.”

Harves is scheduled for sentencing on a single aggravated theft charge at 10:30 a.m., June 11, in Flannery’s court in Lebanon. Relatives are expected to help him make full restitution.

The boosters already have been reimbursed more than $280,000 of the stolen money, including $143,390 Harves paid to the group in June 2012, after he was confronted about discrepancies in the account.

Booster officials have declined to respond to questions after issuing a statement after the April 11 plea hearing.

“Have they learned a lesson? Absolutely,” said Lisa Babb, a parent and community group supporter in Springboro. “It was a lesson learned for all organizations in Springboro and hopefully beyond.”

At the end of March, the club reported more than $189,500 on hand in its main account and one used to account for profits from the club’s Fan Store, according to bank statements, obtained by the Dayton Daily News from the school district.

In March, the club paid out more than $11,000, including $3,122 for team purchases, according to records filed last week with the school treasurer. The expenditures left the club with about just $4,500 less than at the beginning of March, according to records.

The bank statements are examples of records all school booster groups in Springboro are now required to file with the board.

The group has enacted financial controls, including rules ensuring better cash accounting, and is pursuing reinstatement of its non-profit status, revoked by the Internal Revenue Service for failing to file for three consecutive years. Meanwhile contributions are not tax-deductible and the group is subject to tax on them.

Rather than the boosters, Rigano said the victims were student athletes and parents assessed pay to participate fees.

“How do we regain the trust of the community? The emails I see tell me the community is furious about this,” he said.

Babb said observers should keep in mind the athletic boosters are volunteers whose work helps pay for uniforms and special equipment that would otherwise not have been purchased by the district, regardless of pay to participate fees.

“These are some of the most hard working people in this community,” Babb said.

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