A Vermont Youth Hockey association is looking to get back on its feet after the woman responsible for keeping its finances in order was actually stealing from the group. Harwood Youth Hockey serves kids in Waterbury, Duxbury, Moretown and the surrounding area. They all took a hit when a thief went after their money. But now they're seeing first-hand what can happen when people step up to help.
It was all smiles and laughter at the Harwood Youth Hockey practice Tuesday night as peewee players took to the ice in Waterbury. But it hasn't been all fun and games for the association.
"So in June, when we were notified that there was a problem by the Vermont State Police, we looked at what was going on and we were basically left with nothing and a couple bills. So we totally had to start from scratch," said Angela Wells, the president of the Harwood Youth Hockey Association.
Michelle Rutledge, 47, embezzled money from the youth hockey association last year while working as its treasurer. Police have not said how much she stole, but Wells says she expected to have about $50,000 in the bank, and it was all gone.
"You get to know these people; you spend half a year with them, with their kids. We were devastated. Of course you feel betrayed. You feel like there was a lot of trust broken; it's very heart wrenching to go through that," said Wells.
Despite the financial blow, Wells says it was important to get the kids back on the ice and that the community immediately rallied to help.
Tuesday night, the Prohibition Pig restaurant in Waterbury donated 10 percent of its sales-- an estimated $1,000-- to the league.
"We are trying to help the recoup some of their recent losses. We've had a pretty good crowd here already tonight. It was something that our owner came up with to kind of give back to so many people who come in all the time," said Max Pogacar of Prohibition Pig.
Although the fundraiser will help the program get back on track, Certified Public Accountant Marcia Merrill says there are ways to prevent embezzlement from happening in the first place.
"So you separate who's got their hands on the cash or money and who's doing the bookkeeping. And if you can't separate that because your business is small, then you need to get better oversight," said Merrill.
Merrill says it's very difficult to catch fraud with only one set of eyes on the books. She says it is crucial for a small organization to add safeguards to protect itself from fraud -- and Wells agrees.
"So we have gone through, we have safeguards in place now. We are redoing how we handle funds, more checks and balances in places, and making a stronger program," said Wells.
Michelle Rutledge also embezzled about $120,000 from the Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury where she worked as the bookkeeper. She will be sentenced in May.