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Theft from Friends of the Fair fund suspected

St. Helens police have investigated allegations of embezzlement of more than $10,000 that occurred from a Columbia County Friends of the Fair Youth Livestock Auction fund.

the Columbia County District Attorney’s office confirmed Tuesday, Oct. 21, the grand jury is expected to review the circumstances of the case to determine whether to bring a formal indictment against a known suspect.

An email obtained by the Spotlight that was addressed to fair board members last month indicated a person associated with the nonprofit Columbia County Friends of the Fair Youth Livestock Auction is now prohibited from accessing the organization’s bank account. A record of financial activity outlined in the email indicates the board is investigating numerous checks written from the livestock auction account.

A report of the activity was taken by the St. Helens Police Department on Sept. 10.

St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss confirmed that a call came in from the auction board and an officer investigated the circumstances. No arrest was made.

“An officer took the information, completed an investigation and sent it to the DA’s office for investigation,” Moss said. He noted that officers can use their discretion about whether to arrest someone who could have committed a crime, but poses no threat to the public.

Fraudulent checks were discovered on Sept. 5 by Daniel Hannah, the Columbia County Friends of the Fair Youth Livestock Auction chair, according to the email.

A few days after the discovery, the organization’s bank account was frozen, access to the account was restricted, and “all funds for withdrawal had to be verified prior to payment,” the email states.

According to the email, the auction committee discovered 11 checks, totaling $10,355, written from the auction’s account that are believed to be fraudulent. Nine of the 11 checks flagged for fraud were made out to a suspect in the case. One of the checks, written for $3,250, was written to the suspect’s son.

The checks were all written from July to September, during the 2014 fair year.

An audit of the account by board members also indicates some people who purchased animals at the auction were over-billed, while some sellers may not have been paid, according to the email. Additionally, there may have been delays in payment, or no payment at all, to vendors and state licensing agencies.

Michael Warren, chair of the board of directors for the Columbia County Fair and Rodeo, would not comment about the case, but confirmed the suspect is no longer handling the finances and said an investigation is underway.

In the meantime, all withdrawals from the account are required to be approved by Columbia County’s legal counsel, according to the email.

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