A Columbia Association personnel assistant has been charged with stealing $8,450 from the nonprofit organization by issuing paychecks to a nonexistent employee and depositing them in a bank account established by her sister, Howard County police say.
Shari Lee Neiman, 35, of Annapolis issued paychecks to a fictitious employee, "Elizabeth W. Nehring," from last July through March until a Columbia Association internal audit of the Supreme Sports Club's financial statements uncovered the alleged theft, police charging documents say.
The audit was performed to determine why the sports club had exceeded its budget, the documents say.
Ms. Neiman was arrested Friday and released on $25,000 unsecured bond, said Sgt. Steve Keller, a police spokesman. Her trial has been set for Sept. 19 in Howard County District Court.
Columbia Association President Padraic Kennedy said Ms. Neiman was fired April 15, the day association officials asked police to investigate the matter.
Mr. Kennedy said he was angry and disappointed about the alleged theft but pleased that internal controls had identified it.
"I think you can't have any 100 percent foolproof system, but you can have checks in there that can flush it up," Mr. Kennedy said. "There are checks; they work, but not instantaneously."
Columbia Council member Mike Rethman said the arrest raises the question of whether the association's internal auditing system is adequate to prevent theft.
"There's no reason to suspect it's not, but now that attention has been drawn to it, we want assurances it's the best system it can be," Mr. Rethman said. "I suspect the likelihood that this is widespread is small, but I certainly want to take action to ensure that's the case."
In 1977, treasurer Walter James Davis received a five-year prison sentence for embezzling nearly $200,000 from the association.
The quasi-governmental association charges Columbia property owners an annual fee to manage the unincorporated city's recreational facilities, community programs and open space -Z areas, under the direction of the elected council. The association's annual operating budget is more than $30 million.
Police say the association's audit revealed that Ms. Neiman has a sister, Wendy Elizabeth Neiman, who applied last June to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration for a new driver's license in the name Wendy Elizabeth Nehring.
The audit also traced the creation of the fictitious employee Elizabeth W. Nehring to Shari Lee Neiman's computer, police say.
Sergeant Keller said the police investigation found that Ms. Nehring had no knowledge of the alleged theft and that no charges were filed against her.
Checks made out to the fictitious employee were deposited in a First National Bank of Maryland account, which included personal checks and an automated teller machine card issued to Elizabeth W. Nehring. The Annapolis address corresponding to the checks and ATM card is the same as that of the suspect's sister, Wendy Elizabeth Nehring, according to court documents.
Neither Shari Lee Neiman, who was a Columbia Association employee for three years, nor Ms. Nehring could be reached for comment yesterday.
According to court documents, Ms. Nehring told Detective Ellsworth Jones in an April 18 interview that she opened the bank account at Ms. Neiman's request last June. Ms. Nehring told police that her sister said she had a second job and wanted to deposit the money from that job in the account.
According to police, Ms. Nehring said the account was established in her name because her sister didn't want her father to know about the second account.