SOUTHINGTON - Police have charged a local woman with embezzling more than $400,000 from a local nonprofit lacrosse group and a private engineering firm.
According to police, Courtney Wells, 48, embezzled about $98,000 from the Southington Lacrosse Association, where she previously served as treasurer. Additionally, police said, she allegedly embezzled about $376,000 from Jones Engineering, LLC., where she had worked as a bookkeeper.
Wells is facing two counts of first-degree larceny and one count each of first-degree forgery and second-degree money laundering. She turned herself in Wednesday morning.
According to the arrest warrant, a representative from the association - a nonprofit organization that coordinates lacrosse events and games for youth - contacted police on Feb. 10 after members noticed some irregularities in the group’s funds. Wells, the warrant said, served as the treasurer between 2010 and September 2016.
The association is primarily funded through its membership fees and is mostly self-governed, as it is considered an independent group. However, it operates under the town’s Parks and Recreation Department and, during the time Wells was treasurer, had been allocated about $28,000 from the town.
The abnormalities in the group’s funds were noticed when a new treasurer took over for Wells. Some of the funds were used during transactions with retailers like Old Navy, Victoria’s Secret, Dress Barn, Lands’ End, Kohl’s and BJ’s. There were also records of purchases of concert tickets and hotel rooms, as well as large ATM withdrawals, the warrant said. There were also a number of deposits from Jones Engineering to the association, which the owner of the firm said he never authorized.
When police initially spoke to Wells in February, according to the warrant, she said she had occasionally made mistakes when making personal purchases, using the association’s debit card, but she insisted she always reimbursed the organization when that happened. She agreed to speak with police again to go over in more detail the group’s accounting.
During the investigation, police had the assistance of an audit conducted by an independent firm, examining the association’s accounts.
When the owner of Jones Engineering - a civil engineering and land surveying firm - spoke to police in March and again in April, he told them he did not realize Wells was stealing from him until officers contacted him inquiring about the deposits from his firm to the association, according to the warrant. The owner is related to Wells through marriage.
The Jones Engineering owner also expressed frustration to police over the situation, as he said there have been weeks where he was unable to pay himself based on the presumed losses the firm had been incurring. He said he would try to file an insurance claim to recoup some of the money lost.
Police again spoke to Wells in April, when she admitted to stealing from the association and trying to cover up those thefts by funneling money from Jones Engineering into the nonprofit’s account, according to the warrant. When asked what she was using the money for, police wrote in the document, Wells’ only explanation was that she had been living beyond her means and had intended to pay all the money back.
Wells, of 38 Cambridge Drive, was arraigned Wednesday in Bristol Superior Court, where officials said she has no previous criminal history. She posted $80,000 bond shortly after her hearing, and is due back in court on July 5. Wells has not entered a plea.
During the arraignment, Ronald Dearstyne, the prosecutor, said he will be seeking prison time in the case, despite Wells’ lack of a criminal record. He also asked that Wells turn over her passport within 48 hours of bonding out - a request that was granted by a judge.
Justin Muszynski can be reached at 860-973-1809 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.