Stratford residents are looking to the courts for justice and the board of their neighborhood association for changes after its former treasurer was charged Tuesday with stealing more than a quarter-million dollars from her neighbors.
Laurie Wainwright Vanover, 45, of Andover Court, was charged with theft by taking, theft by conversion, computer fraud and financial transaction card fraud. She has been released from the Columbia County Detention Center after posting a $40,400 bond, according to county jailers.
Stratford resident Mack Taylor said that Vanover’s arrest is a relief and that he’s happy to see the case moving to the courts after a five-month investigation.
“We have all been incredibly anxious to see something happen and hope that restitution will be made quickly,” Taylor said. “It has been such a terrible feeling to have such a breach of trust, so we would expect to be recompensed expeditiously as well as seeing a just outcome.”
Vanover, who cooperated in the investigation, is accused of stealing $267,663.08 from the Stratford Community Association between November 2008 and December 2012, while she served as treasurer of the organization, Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said.
Association President Tom Gorta first reported to police on Dec. 19 that money was missing from the account, and initially investigators estimated about $192,000 had been taken.
Gorta noticed a problem when a check written to the association’s account bounced, and he had bank employees pull the account history.
“We went through it, and I got sicker and sicker and sicker,” said Gorta, who immediately notified authorities of the missing money. “It’s an absolute betrayal. It’s a betrayal of trust.”
Investigators were able to find more than $135,0000 listed as stolen through checks Vanover wrote or converted to her use; more than $115,000 had been taken through computer transactions; and more than $17,000 was taken through financial transaction card fraud, much of it through ATM withdrawals.
“I don’t think she realized how much money it was,” said Gorta, who quickly informed other board members of the thefts. “They were all dumbfounded. … It was total shock, disbelief.”
Gorta said he’s heard from residents supportive of the board’s actions. Others, he said, have outspokenly bashed the board.
Resident Cheryl Snover said neighbors are divided. She, too, is disappointed such a theft could occur in the 491-home neighborhood.
She said the board violated residents’ trust and holds it liable for the theft.
“I think the entire board should be removed,” Snover said. “They are the ones we’ve given that trust to. For her to be the only one to have overview of that account was wrong in the beginning.”
Gorta said Vanover performed regular audits. Since the theft was discovered, the board instituted policies to ensure it can’t happen again and is reviewing and updating association bylaws.
“Things have been tightened up,” Gorta said. “Everything is in review.”
Snover said she believes that the board isn’t being open about what is being done to protect the dues, recently increased to $350 from $205, after fees for some services were combined in early December.
“There’s still a lot of distrust because of lack of transparency,” Snover said. “Transparency is the utmost necessity. … Be transparent, so we can move on.”
Gorta said moving on is exactly what the board and residents should do now that the suspect is in the hands of the justice system.
“You can’t beat a dead horse on this,” Gorta said. “It’s over. It’s done. We have to move on. You’ve got to move forward.”