Woman pleads guilty in thefts

Youth football program, as well as ex-employer, lost thousands of dollars

Columbia

February 25, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The 51-year-old former volunteer treasurer of a Columbia youth football club pleaded guilty yesterday to stealing thousands of dollars from the organization and from her former employer.

Harriet Williams of Ellicott City pleaded guilty to two counts of felony theft by scheme even though prosecutors said they intend to ask for significant jail time - five to seven years - at her June 11 sentencing in front of Howard Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure.

Williams' attorney, Steven A. Allen, is expected to ask Leasure for a more lenient sentence. State sentencing guidelines recommend probation or up to six months in jail for each offense.

"Harriet has accepted responsibility for what she did," Allen said after the hearing. "She very much regrets her conduct."

The thefts were discovered last year after Williams told officials with the Columbia Bulldogs Association that the group was low on funds despite a backer's "large" contributions to the group, prosecutors said.

When Williams could offer no explanation - or records to account for the problem - the financial backer contacted police.

Investigators discovered that Williams, who was responsible for collecting the cash and checks raised through fees, concessions and other fund-raisers, had written 38 association checks worth more than $72,000 to herself or to cash between August 2001 and January last year and deposited the money into her account, prosecutors said.

Football organizers have said the thefts led to the failure of the club. A new club, Columbia Ravens Football Inc., sued Williams on behalf of its predecessor last year.

Forged checks

Investigators also found forged checks from the Maryland Motor Truck Association, where Williams worked as a bookkeeper, that had been deposited into the Bulldogs bank account, prosecutors said.

Two other checks from the trade organization totaling more than $21,000 were also deposited into Williams' checking account Aug. 17, 2001. The next day, Williams bought a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee and paid for the vehicle with a personal check for $25,360.

She took nearly $64,000 from her former employer, prosecutors said.

During a search last year of her house in the 10200 block of Fairway Drive, investigators found a letter, apparently written by Williams to her husband, that spoke of money problems and listed credit card bills totaling more than $175,000, prosecutors said.

Sum disputed

Although prosecutors alluded to more than $90,000 taken from the Bulldogs, Allen told Leasure yesterday that some of that was truck association money deposited into the Bulldogs account.

The actual loss to the football association should be less than prosecutors allege, he said.

"We do not dispute either theft. We just dispute the amount," he said.

After yesterday's hearing, Allen said his client is hoping to make "substantial restitution" to the football association and to the trucking association by the time of sentencing.

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