DA charges former Chamber director with theft

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 9, 2006

The Butler County District Attorney's office has filed criminal theft charges against former Chamber of Commerce Director Carol Lee, alleging she stole thousands of dollars from a fund set aside for area youth scholarships.

District Attorney John Andrews has charged Lee with two counts of theft of property, 1st degree. The DA's office alleges that Lee stole $7,270.94 from the Butler County Achiever Award scholarship program and misused approximately $850 in other funds while serving as the Chamber's Executive Director.

Lee resigned her position on Nov. 8.

&#8220I hate that this happened,” said Andrews. &#8220But it's my duty as district attorney to uphold the law. She (Lee) is like everyone else who breaks the law. I can't ignore it.”

Andrews said the case would now go before the grand jury, which convenes in February. It will be up to the grand jury whether or not Lee will be indicted on the listed charges, said Andrews.

Chamber of Commerce officials said Lee's resignation was a mutual decision, resulting from an investigation by the Achiever Award Committee into Lee's alleged misappropriation of funds.

The Butler County Achiever Award - a scholarship program which recognizes a senior male and female student from county schools - is jointly sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the Greenville YMCA. Winners of the award each receive $1500 scholarships.

&#8220We were notified by the parent of one of the Achiever Award winners that they had not received their scholarship money,” said Jeff Adams, who serves on the Chamber of Commerce's Executive Board and on the Achiever Award Committee. &#8220The board immediately launched an investigation into the matter and discovered some irregularities in accounting that resulted in Mrs. Lee's resignation.”

Chamber officials said Lee agreed to pay all funds in question and the board agreed to allow her the opportunity to do so.

However, Andrews said while the Chamber did nothing wrong, Lee still is alleged to have committed a crime.

&#8220No group can get together and circumvent the law,” said Andrews. &#8220In this case, it's something that can't be done.”

Lee had been an employee of the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce since 1993.

Contacted by The Advocate on Thursday afternoon, Lee said she would not comment on the allegations.

Incoming Chamber Board president Judy Gettys said the organization remains committed to reshaping the direction and focus of the Chamber of Commerce.

&#8220We are now in the process of structuring an organization that will solely focus on serving the interests of its membership in the future,” said Gettys. &#8220While this may seem to be a setback for the Chamber, the board sees it as an opportunity to build a stronger, more viable business focused on organization to serve this growing community.”

Adams said the Achiever Award still exists as an entity to help Butler County students bound for college.

&#8220The committee is committed to continuing a program that has helped 18 families defer the cost of sending their children to college,” said Adams. &#8220This unfortunate incident has caused the board to develop policy and procedure that will keep something like this from happening again. The sole purpose of the Achiever Award program is to help children and recognize them for their positive contributions. In recognition of this 10 year anniversary of the award, the board is committed to making it stronger than ever before.”