PAWS volunteer accused of stealing $10,000 from animal shelter

ST. GEORGE – An animal shelter volunteer initially arrested and charged with misdemeanor theft on Jan. 13 after she was believed to have stolen approximately $1,000 from P.A.W.S., located at 1125 W. 1130 North in St. George, may now face additional charges after it was discovered the amount she allegedly stole is closer to $10,000.

The St. George Police Department is working closely with the Washington County Attorney’s Office in reviewing the additional evidence in this case to decide what action will be taken and if charges will be amended to reflect the higher dollar amount, St. George Police Sgt. Sam Despain said Thursday.

Erin Leigh Chapman, of St. George, Utah, booking photo posted Jan. 13, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff’s booking, St. George News
Erin Leigh Chapman, of St. George, Utah, booking photo posted Jan. 13, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff’s booking, St. George News

Erin Leigh Chapman, 32, had been working as the head dog-volunteer at P.A.W.S. (Providing Animals With Support), a nonprofit, no-kill, volunteer animal rescue organization founded in 2002 that rescues animals scheduled to be euthanized due to lack of space at shelters. Chapman had been with the organization since February 2014.

“We suspected our cash flow in December, the amount of cash that was available for deposit, was pretty much nonexistent and we were trying to figure out why,” Lynn Burger, director of operations for the organization, said.

After discovering money was missing, shelter operators put video surveillance into place and placed $30 in the till to see if it would be stolen, St. George Police Officer David McDaniel said in the probable cause statement supporting the arrest. Video surveillance footage showed Chapman using her security code to enter the facility and go to the area where the key to the till was kept.

Police made contact with Chapman at her home where she first denied the accusations and denied that she had been at the business but later admitted to taking the $30, along with “more than $1,000 across multiple incidents” the entire time she had been volunteering at the shelter, McDaniel said in the statement. Chapman also told police that she had been smoking weed every day.

“(Chapman) stated she had money troubles,” McDaniel said, “and was down on her luck.”

Chapman was booked into the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility and charged with a class A misdemeanor for theft before being released on bail.

After Chapman’s arrest, shelter operators discovered Chapman had been taking money in gradually increasing amounts for nearly a year.

“She admitted to taking money for over 11 months,” Burger said, “so we went back and did a full accounting and found that we had about $10,000 missing and unaccounted for in cash.”

Because the shelter mostly operates using cash, Burger said, the missing money and receipts were not immediately noticed.

Other than $20 taken from a donation jar, Burger said the money Chapman stole was not from donations but instead, came from a low-cost pet spay and neuter program available to the public as well as pet adoption fees. She said the missing money is a serious setback for the facility.

“The money was meant to pay vet bills so now we have to take the money that we may have used to take in new animals and use the reserves that we have from our golf tournament,” Burger said. “We have one big fundraiser a year and that’s our golf tournament in October and we save that money. That money has to get us through a lot of the year. We now have to use the money from the golf tournament to cover the bills.”

Burger said Chapman was a trusted volunteer because she was a dog manager and had access to everything.

“Unfortunately,” she said, “I guess the temptation of the money being in the same file cabinet so close to the files, that was our mistake; it should have been in a safe somewhere else. But, you know, we trust people and that’s the mistake we made.”

The shelter has since implemented significant changes, she said, including a change in accounting policies.

“We’ve made changes,” Burger said. “Things are done differently so that this won’t happen again because I don’t want any of the public to lose faith in our organization and not donate to us because of this.”

P.A.W.S. posted the following statement on one of the organization’s Facebooks Tuesday:

PAWS is deeply hurt by the internal theft that occurred here, not just because it sets us back with kitten season right around the corner, or because we feel betrayed by a trusted volunteer, but because we know you have a choice when it comes to where you donate your hard-earned money. We want you to know that we are working within the legal system to get the money back. We are implementing policy changes to prevent internal theft from occurring again, and we are determined to use this situation as a learning experience so that we come out of this a stronger organization than we were before.

Chapman has pleaded not guilty to the theft charge and a bench trial for her original charge is scheduled for March 17.

“She has confessed so I’m not sure how she’s going to go about getting out of it,” Burger said in regards to Chapman’s not guilty plea. “See, she’s the one that told the police about the 11 month period. We probably would have stopped and not gone back and looked because we just went and did an accounting for December thinking that that was when it started. By her telling the police that it was actually 11 months, we went back and realized that she was taking a little bit every month. That is what tipped us off so I don’t really know how she is going to proceed as not guilty.”

For now, Burger said, she is focusing on trying to recoup some of the money that was taken, as the missing money will make it difficult for the shelter to make it through the rest of the year.

For more information, about P.A.W.S. or to make a donation, visit the organization’s website or call 435-688-9748.

Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

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Email: kscott@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

 

 

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39 Comments

  • My Evil Twin January 22, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    Good lord don’t you people know ANYTHING about “checks and balances,” when it comes to accounting procedures? You ever hear the term, “trust but VERIFY?”

    • Bender January 22, 2015 at 7:46 pm

      Sounds like MY EVIL TWIN is ready to step up and volunteer.

    • EVILTWiNSMOMMY January 22, 2015 at 10:45 pm

      Go sniff some bicycle seats. I bet you’ve heard that before eh.?

      • Dana January 23, 2015 at 5:18 am

        Evil Twins Mommy…I believe your comment should be the Post of the Day. Good one!!!

        Re: PAWS….I’ve volunteered as well as donated. If you want to help, please donate $$$, your time as well as your talent. You also can help by supporting their thrift store:
        Pawsitively Unique Boutique
        155 N 400 W
        St. George, UT 84770.

        • Evil Twins Mommy January 23, 2015 at 6:08 am

          DANA that comment has nothing to do with you. So shut you pie hole that’s between me and my evil twin

          • Dana January 23, 2015 at 7:43 am

            I love when you talk dirty. It brings out the inner nasty in you.

          • My Evil Twin January 23, 2015 at 7:55 am

            Ooooooohhhhh, somebody fell out of the wrong side of the bed this morning. :p
            Badly hungover after a night of celebrating your release?

          • ladybugavenger January 23, 2015 at 8:23 am

            You use to be so sweet mommy, now youre getting hostile. What happened mommy?

      • My Evil Twin January 23, 2015 at 7:57 am

        If I didn’t hand you your lines, you’d never know what to say.

  • Retired Accountant January 22, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    What a joke! The people is charge are to blame for not having any controls in place. You never tempt people to help themselves. It appears you are only guessing at what the missing amount is because you should have balanced your cash and books at least once a month. Most cash businesses balance the cash daily – you never did it! Ha Ha as Forest Gump says “stupid is as stupid does”.

    • Realistic January 22, 2015 at 7:31 pm

      So just because they made a stupid mistake, it’s okay for this low life to steal from them and (apparently) buy pot with the money that was supposed to be going to animals that truly need it. Yeah, let’s shame the people that volunteer their time and energy so that these animals have somewhere to live and are cared for on their way to their forever home.

      I agree it was a huge mistake, but it sound like you are just name calling and siding with a thief. Go back into retirement, the real world doesn’t need your negativity.

    • Bender January 22, 2015 at 7:48 pm

      Ahh, retired accountant. Your expertise in financial controls is needed. Please report for volunteer duty.

    • GSD January 23, 2015 at 10:33 am

      Certainly your time & knowledge are more valuable than your criticism. Perhaps you could put that knowledge to good use by volunteering for a worthy cause!

  • koolaid January 22, 2015 at 6:34 pm

    Throw her in the pound. That’ll teach her to keep her paws off money that isn’t hers. If she was desperate for money, she could have asked for a fundraiser.

    • Harry the cable guy January 22, 2015 at 10:41 pm

      Better take her to the Vet and get her vaccinated and tagged

  • asianspa January 22, 2015 at 6:34 pm

    Time to implement some Controls and segregrate some duties.

  • lp January 22, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    They may have been at fault for bad accounting practices but no one forced her to take the money. That is totally on her. Putting the blame on P.A.W.S is
    stupid. People are entirely responsible for their own actions.

  • diane January 22, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    I agree with all the above posts. How do you lose thst much money over a year and not know? Definitely their own fault I worry about the animals suffering now.

  • Bunny2015 January 22, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    I’ve actually donated to that place too. Didn’t know they were such imbeciles. Won’t happen again…

  • Beavan January 22, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    Didn’t they (P.A.W.S.) orchastrat the ousting of Mayor Dan? Looks like they got a little pooch-screwing of their own.

  • clydebug January 22, 2015 at 9:16 pm

    People with big hearts tend to be very trusting. Every business person knows it is those you trust that are in a position to hurt you the most.

    We give much and often to Paws and are conflicted about their need to recover the losses on the one hand, and having no idea what fiscal controls will prevent further embezzlement in the future. Further, where we had planned to include PAWS in our will for significant funds, we are rethinking that.

    Seeing the Chapman lowlife go to prison for a significant time will be a big factor in our future contributions, I am sorry to say.

  • Harry the cable guy January 22, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    dang tweekers

  • Not Buying It January 22, 2015 at 10:51 pm

    With the comments you leave here I don’t believe for one second that you ever donated to any cause. not even Koolaids fundraiser

  • PAWS Volunteer and Donor January 22, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    I donate to PAWS monthly and will continue to do so. I also volunteer there, and since this happened, I have increased my involvement. Why? Because if there had been more people willing to step up to the plate to help things run the way they should have been running, this would not have happened. We could use experienced managers, accountants, marketing people, dog trainers, groomers, etc. For every volunteer need we have, I know there is someone in St. George who is a perfect fit. Until they step forward, we’re going to do the best we can filling the gaps while other people call us imbeciles and stop donating.

  • koolaid January 22, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    A three legged dog walks into a bar and says “I’m lookin for the man who shot my paw!”

    • Evil Twins Mommy January 23, 2015 at 1:53 am

      Can you say that in French Poodlenees.?

  • An animal lover January 22, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    I cannot believe that people are blaming PAWS for the actions of a thief! Come on! They trusted someone they shouldn’t have, but that is certainly no reason to back away from a wonderful organization that helps so many animals and people. I not only will continue to help and donate to them, I will give them more money now to help with the shortfall. I hope most people will step up and donate now and continue to do so in the future and show PAWS that we support them and their mission.

  • ladybugavenger January 23, 2015 at 12:15 am

    #fundraiser

    • sagemoon January 23, 2015 at 8:50 am

      I’m down with that.

  • Bunny2015 January 23, 2015 at 12:29 am

    One time I tried to give them a box of cats and they sent me away ahahah

  • San... January 23, 2015 at 3:37 am

    We have donated to PAWS and will do so again, whenever needed. Pet rescue is demanding….it is a 24/7 response based endeavor and every one of the staff has a life separate of the rescue. No college that I know of offers a degree in how to run such a program and even if they did no one that I know intended to make stray animals their life’s work. These are amazing human beings, very dedicated. They consider their army of volunteers to be like-minded family so such a violation of trust would hit hard. Give them a break! If you have $10, give them that too…last year’s kitten season was horrific, both in numbers and virus related vet bills. A lot of rescues went beyond their means to meet the needs of otherwise dying animals. It’s time to step up and donate the price of a hamburger lunch…if you can. If you can’t, no foul….

  • Evil Twins Mommy January 23, 2015 at 6:18 am

    DANA the sewer is backed up go volunteer and clean it up you got the hot air for it

    • My Evil Twin January 23, 2015 at 7:42 am

      I see they let you out of juvenile hall again.

    • Dana January 23, 2015 at 7:46 am

      Well, once I fished you out of it, it’s now flowing well. Now, go play on the I-15 and stay out of the sewers.

  • sagemoon January 23, 2015 at 8:51 am

    Scum bag. I blame the scum bag, not the victim.

  • My Evil Twin January 23, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    Nobody is trying to take the blame away from the thief here. But the fact is that checks and balances should have been in place, and they were not. So PAWS certainly left themselves open to being ripped off.

  • Paw this January 24, 2015 at 10:28 am

    Why does st. George news sensor comments to guide everyone one to liberal thinking, change the name to st. uSSR news.

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