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Stratford residents seek answers after thefts

Wednesday, May 8, 2013 6:47 PM
Last updated Thursday, May 9, 2013 12:32 AM
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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: Ex-treasurer is charged with stealing more than $260,000.  FILE
Laurie Wainwright Vanover: Ex-treasurer is charged with stealing more than $260,000.

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.”

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fedex227 05/08/13 - 09:52 pm
According to Mr. Gorta,

“I don’t think she realized how much money it was.” Wake up pal, this is the mindset we've created in these welfare-cheating, unemployed, Obama-cheering liberals. Such a sense of entitlement.

Young Fred
Young Fred 05/09/13 - 01:05 am
Wow, what a snafu.

Wow, what a snafu. Separation of duties would be a great start. Let this be a costly lesson. Never, ever allow one person to have sole control over all aspects of other people's money.

This is a great lesson for any association, club, business, etc. Give someone ample opportunity to steal, and many times they will!

smAShT 05/09/13 - 01:43 am
Who needs Big Government

Who needs Big Government ripping you off when you got friends like this? Community Association groups always seemed like an arm of socialism to me anyways.

Just My Opinion
Just My Opinion 05/09/13 - 04:48 am
Okay, it sounds to me like

Okay, it sounds to me like Cheryl Snover has thrown her hat in the ring to be the new President of the homeowners association of Stratford! The point I'm trying to make is that it's very easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize AFTER something has happened like this. These members of the HOA were elected by Ms. Snover and the other residents of Stratford. The bottom line is that if someone else thinks they can do a better job, let them. The current members of the HOA board would never have thought in a million years that this would've happened. THAT is why all those rules are in place...because somewhere down the line, something happened to have a rule created. This is no different.
And "....recompensed expeditiously...."? Who talks like that?? Let that guy be the new president! LOL!

Bodhisattva 05/09/13 - 06:35 am
I'm hoping that's $350 a

I'm hoping that's $350 a year.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 05/09/13 - 08:00 am

We have approximately 280 homes in our subdivision. The typical attendance at the neighborhood association meeting is approximately twenty people, many of them married couples. So you've got maybe twelve or fifteen households voting for the officers who will control the dues money of 280 households. It's probably a similar level of interest in Stratford.

David Parker
David Parker 05/09/13 - 09:08 am
Most HOA's are like that

Most HOA's are like that aren't they? A small few handle all the decisions and allocate all the funds. I guess as long as the folks paying into the funds are affluent or do not miss the contribution, they could care less about the issues being handled. Or is this particular case an anomaly?

BamaMan 05/09/13 - 01:31 pm
Stolen money

Looks like she stole more than her house is worth.

Riverman1 05/09/13 - 01:34 pm
Two Points

Two salient points in my mind. Foremost, the office she held was one of trust. Secondly, this was not a one-time theft. It went on and on. The stealing was calculated and carefully carried out many, many times. If each time she stole is one count, she will be going away for a long time. Now this is going to sound naïve, but she seems like a nice lady. What in the world gets into someone like that?

Bubba 05/09/13 - 04:32 pm
Not so fast, el Presidente

"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."

By Laws? I wonder if he meant covenants. Here's a sad little thing about covenants. You almost can't change them. Ever. Know why? It would take all 491 homeowners in the neighborhood agreeing to the CHANGES. 490? Not good enough. Why? Because it affects everyone's property rights when the covenants change. Wow, I think I get dumber everytime I read an article about these thefts.

Little Lamb is right. No participation so the one's who show up are either shamed into serving, meglamaniacal bullies that want to control the hood, or rarely, people who are there to block all the stupidity that the board attempts to foist on the slackers who won't come to the annual meeting.

I know this, if those people have an extra 145 dollars and they don't care enough to throw out the board for mismanaging the account, then they deserve to be pickpocketed. I can't imagine the brass this person displayed stealing. I also can't fathom the board being so asleep at the wheel either, and now sloughing off any responsibility whatsoever. Maybe not general board members but the president now being aware? If the president was sickened as he went through the checkbook, he should have been.

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