Stratford residents are looking to the courts for justice and the board of their neighborhood association for changes after the 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 was released from the Columbia County Detention Center after posting a $40,400 bond, according to jailers.
Stratford resident Mack Taylor said Vanover’s arrest is a relief, and 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 $267,623.08 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 Dec. 19, 2012, to police that funds were missing from the account, and initially investigators estimated about $192,000 had been taken.
Gorta said when a check written on the association’s account bounced, 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 funds. It’s an absolute betrayal. It’s a betrayal of trust.”
Investigators who were able to find $135,155.50 listed as stolen through checks Vanover wrote or converted to her use; $115,115.10 had been taken through computer transactions; and $17,352.48 that 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.”
The theft has sent the subdivision into turmoil. 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 happen in her neighborhood of 491 homes.
She feels the entire board violated residents’ trust and holds them 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, who was treasurer since 2008, reported performing regular audits. Since the theft was discovered, the board instituted new policies to ensure such thefts can’t happen again and is in the process of reviewing and updating association by-laws.
“Things have been tightened up,” Gorta said. “Everything is in review.”
Snover said she feels the board isn’t being open about what’s 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 Vanover 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.’’