Police probe possible theft from center Village manager who resigned last month under investigation

State's attorney checking

About $100,000 from Dorsey's Search is in question

March 12, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth and Caitlin Francke | Dana Hedgpeth and Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Howard County police and prosecutors are investigating a financially troubled Columbia village manager in connection with possible embezzlement from the village center.

Anne Darrin, who resigned Feb. 27 after 10 years as the Dorsey's Search village manager, would not comment yesterday on the allegations or the investigation.

Assistant State's Attorney Bernard Taylor said his office is working with police to investigate alleged thefts at the village center. Asked how much money might be involved, he said, "It has the potential to be large."

A preliminary audit by the Columbia Association turned up evidence that about $100,000 may have been misappropriated from Dorsey's Search over several years, according to two sources familiar with the confidential document. The association oversees Columbia and provides about $2 million a year in grants to its 10 village centers.

Sources familiar with the audit say it alleges that Darrin, 48, made personal loans to family members using the village center's money, stole food, furniture and supplies belonging to the village center, and gave employees personal gifts purchased with the center's money.

The preliminary audit of records kept by Darrin began in mid-January after village board members questioned Darrin's spending practices and accounting system. At a Jan. 14 meeting, Darrin said she did not understand how Columbia Association financial recordkeeping works and expressed confusion about how to record purchases, according to minutes of the meeting.

Two weeks ago, CA's chief financial officer showed the preliminary audit to council members.

Darrin's

resignation followed the audit and came at a time of increasing financial problems for her and her husband. Last month, she and her husband, John, 51, filed for bankruptcy, days before their home on Chariots Flight Way was to be foreclosed on. John Darrin and their son, Josh, own Baltimore's downtown "cyber-cafe," The Strand, which filed for bankruptcy last July. In September 1996, the Darrins took out a $200,000 loan, using their home as collateral for the computer and coffee shop.

Darrin also has pending criminal charges against her in connection with a $28 check she allegedly bounced at a Columbia hair salon in January -- a check she says she has paid, according to her statement.

The Darrins' Dorsey's Search home was set to be auctioned March 3. But that sale has apparently been postponed because of their Feb. 27 bankruptcy filing.

The Darrins have almost $20,000 in judgments against them, stemming from two lawsuits filed in August and October of last year.

In one case, Anne Darrin wrote an electronic message to an Ellicott City woman who was suing the Darrins for failing to repay a $15,000 loan. The message, part of evidence in the case, says: "John and I are deeply honest people and would never let a debt go unpaid. The minute we pull together the funds, it will be in your hands."

Although she would not comment on the embezzlement allegations, Darrin said in a statement last night, "The financial difficulties of my family relate to the loss of my husband's job and income some eight months ago."

Her husband was president of a Columbia company that sells radiation detection equipment.

In a statement released Tuesday, Anne Darrin wrote that "some of the methods that I have always used have come under question. I also believe that as the Manager I must accept responsibility for any actual or apparent problems."

Columbia Association officials say they met March 3 with Howard County police to look into possible criminal activity on Darrin's part. Yesterday at Darrin's office, a CA staff auditor was reviewing the books for the last 3 1/2 years.

The audit is expected to be completed April 30.

Columbia's village centers receive money from the Columbia Association and collect fees charged for using community rooms. The villages spend the money, under the direction of their village boards, for such expenses as maintenance, holiday parties and children's programs. Dorsey's Search village, which will get almost $250,000 from the association next year, is the only village that does not have its own bookkeeper.

Many of the village centers have not been audited in years.

The troubles at Dorsey's Search have prompted the association to spend $40,000 looking at Columbia's nine other village centers and consider whether to remove their financial autonomy. Tonight, the 10-member council that governs the homeowners' association will decide whether to tighten controls on the $2 million annual grants given to the village centers.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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