As we voyeuristically await resolution of the months-old investigation into the theft of nearly $200,000 from the Stratford Community Association, the questions continue to surface:
“Why hasn’t there been an arrest? These thefts took place over a four-year period – why hasn’t the treasurer been locked up?”
They’re also peppered with less-rational, more cynical questions or commentary: Who’s been paid off, are they “keeping it quiet” so “it” goes away, are the cops in cahoots with the criminal, ad nauseum.
Frankly, I’m almost as tired of answering those questions as I am of being asked. Patience is still a virtue, but only in theory. We demand immediate answers to any question we can think up, and we expect every crime to be wrapped up within an hour just like an episode of Law and Order.
Amidst this short-attention-span impatience, it strikes me as almost comical that we go about our sheltered lives in Columbia County daily, taking stellar police protection for granted while looking down our noses at the often-dangerous mess to the east – yet in practically the next breath we so readily entertain suspicion that the cops are winking and nodding at wrongdoing.
Face it, folks: It’s a package deal. Either you have faith in the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office’s ability to prevent and solve crime, or you don’t. You can’t have it both ways.
But back to the main point. My answers to the why not? why haven’t? questions were really just personal speculation. I’m confident that, with such a large amount of money stolen over such a long period of time, putting together a comprehensive case must be tedious. Consequently, I don’t find it unusual that it’s taking a while to file charges. The only people justified to be impatient in this case are the residents of Stratford; all the other looky-loos are just gleaning gossip-fodder, because it ain’t their money.
Still, because people are asking, it’s sort of my job to get answers – at least, answers to the rational and reasonable questions.
So I asked Columbia County Sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris for help, even though he’s a little fatigued by the questions, too.
Why has the case taken so long? It’s not so much because of the total amount, he says, but because of the number of transactions that added up to more than $192,000 during a four-year period. Each of those transactions potentially represents a single felony.
Putting together charges for each of those counts requires investigators to get subpoenas for each transaction for each financial institution involved. “It’s more than a dozen, could be close to two dozen, financial institutions, banks, credit cards,” Morris said.
“Every transaction would carry a separate felony count, so you’re talking hundreds of those,” Morris said. “We’ll probably issue one warrant and let the district attorney’s office indict on however many they want to indict on.”
So, why not just get enough information for a warrant, make an arrest and at least have the charge filed? The short answer: The treasurer is cooperating, and they need her help.
“A lot of people ask, ‘Well, you had enough, just go ahead and lock her up,’” Morris said. “That’s true; we could have locked her up. But if we had done that, I’m sure communication would have shut down, and we really do need her in the end” to help wade through all the transactions – many of which were legitimate.
“We could figure it out, but it would take at least quadruple the time,” Morris said.
“Without question, we could have easily locked her up, weeks ago, and reached a successful disposition in court,” Morris said. “But we want to make the Stratford association whole again. We’re going to try to account for every penny, and that’s not going to happen overnight.”
So there you have it. If it were your money, wouldn’t you want them to be thorough, rather than bowing to the pressure of public impatience?
Or do you want to just make sure there’s an arrest before the next commercial?