The organization that helps victims of abuse throughout Columbia County found itself the victim of a crime last week.
SAFE of Columbia County, formerly known as the Women’s Resource Center, lost $13,000 when a former bookkeeper and account manager, Hillary Ann Sims, was arrested following a criminal investigation into the loss of several thousands of dollars from the business accounts at the center.
Sims, 40, of St. Helens, was not employed by SAFE at the time of her arrest. St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss said that his officers were made aware of the case last spring and began an investigation then. It wasn’t until March 26 that detectives had made enough progress in the case to arrest Sims.
Moss said that Sims embezzled approximately $13,000 in a complicated scheme. She wrote several checks to herself, and to other individuals and had some way of pocketing the money. At one point early on, Moss said that SAFE employees became suspicious of the accounting and checks made out to Sims and hired an accountant to analyze their books.
“It was very complex. If you or I were to look at it, we probably couldn’t figure out how she did it,” Moss said. “But with an accountant’s eye and an analytical background, one could see it.”
Following Sims’ arrest, the Columbia County Grand Jury indicted the woman on 10 counts of Theft 1, eight counts of Forgery 1, seven counts of identity theft and 32 counts of Theft 2. And those charges, said SAFE Program Manager Naaman Cordova-Muenzberg, were the ones that they were able to show proof for.
“We may never know the full extent of what happened,” he said. “We’ve cut a lot of programs back in the past few years because we didn’t have the money in the budget.” This situation has had a significant impact on programs at SAFE.
Cordova-Muenzberg is new to the organization and was not employed with SAFE at the time that Sims was employed there. He did want to make it clear that donor information was not compromised in any way by Sims’ actions.
“It’s terrible that someone working for an agency like ours would take advantage of the administration and the level of responsibility that she had, and also to take away from the people that we are trying to serve,” he said.
Sims is in custody at the Columbia County Jail. Her bail is set at $25,000.
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