The former office manager of a local non-profit has been charged with multiple felonies for allegedly embezzling about $2,300 from the organization during a three week-period.
The embezzlement scheme at the Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation was quickly discovered by a board member who noticed discrepancies as she was trying to reconcile the organization’s books.
Amanda Chavez, 44, of the 100 block of Commerce Street, was arrested late last week. A criminal complaint filed by Las Vegas Police in San Miguel County Magistrate Court last week charges her with five counts of forgery, three counts of embezzlement and three counts of fraud, all fourth-degree felonies. Chavez is also facing misdemeanor counts of embezzlement and fraud.
The law firm representing Chavez, Brown & Gallegos, declined to comment, saying its attorneys don’t comment on open cases.
Chavez, a part-time employee at CCHP for 17 months, was terminated once the embezzlement was discovered, said Rudy Laumbach, chairman of CCHP’s board of directors. She was not bonded, but Laumbach said the organization would attempt to recover the money taken.
The full board was informed of the situation Monday evening. The revelation that money had been embezzled stunned Laumbach and other board members.
“I was really surprised that it had happened...,” Laumbach said. “We’d developed quite a bit of trust in her. We had a lot of confidence that she was doing a good job. It was a real blow to us that she had violated the trust.”
Formed in 1977, CCHP is one of the city’s longest standing non-profits. Besides promoting historic preservation, the organization coordinates Heritage Week and puts on a series of tours of historic homes and buildings throughout the year, including the annual Places With a Past Tour and Holiday Home Tour.
Laumbach said the funds taken come from the organization’s operations fund. He said that while CCHP isn’t an affluent organization, it has enough of a reserve to absorb the loss without having to curtail its operations.
Chavez was arrested and booked into the San Miguel County Detention Center last Thursday. Online court records show that Chavez made her first appearance in court last Friday, where a not-guilty plea would have been entered on her behalf. Chavez has since bonded out of jail.
The embezzlement scheme is chronicled in an arrest warrant affidavit sworn out by a Las Vegas police officer. The scheme, which allegedly involved forging four checks, was reported to police last week. One of those checks was made out for $900, a second one for $500, a third one for $600 and the fourth one for $300. The checks were forged between Aug. 31 and Sept. 21, according to the criminal complaint.
According to the affidavit:
Board member Martha McCaffrey, who has signatory authority on CCHP accounts, asked Chavez for a copy of the bank statement on Nov. 7 in order to reconcile the financial report. As part of CCHP’s checks and balances, McCaffrey is responsible for reconciling the checkbook against the bank statements and against the organization’s electronic accounting system.
Chavez reportedly provided a written copy of the statement, telling McCaffrey that the original was not in good condition because liquid had been spilled on it. McCaffrey was then given an altered version of the statement. The bank statement had noticeable amounts of white-out, and various parts of the statement were covered, including a photocopied check, the face sheet covering four checks and the number of checks written for the month.
Realizing that something wasn’t right, McCaffrey obtained a legitimate copy of the statement from Community 1st Bank and immediately recognized discrepancies.
“On four occasions, Ms. Chavez had written herself checks from CCHP and forged the signature of Ms. McCaffrey in order to have the checks cashed,” the affidavit states. “When Ms. McCaffrey returned to the office located at 116 Bridge Street, Ms. Chavez left the area.”
Police say attempts were made to contact Chavez, but she didn’t respond.
Laumbach said CCHP is in the process of bringing in a temporary employee to handle the duties that Chavez had been performing. The organization also plans to begin advertising for the position.
The office manager/administrative assistant position is the only paid position at CCHP. Everyone else who works with the group, including board members, does so on a voluntary basis. Laumbach said the office manager/administrative assistant job is a part-time position responsible for everything from greeting the public and answering telephone calls to coordinating volunteers.