A Newport woman was arrested Thursday on a theft charge as part of an investigation into the apparent embezzlement of more than $100,000 from a nonprofit regional planning entity in Ellsworth, according to police.
Sheri G. Walsh 55, of Newport has been charged with Class B felony theft for allegedly stealing the money from the Hancock County Planning Commission, the Ellsworth police department said Friday in a release.
The alleged embezzlement came to light after Walsh was in a motor vehicle accident in Dedham on April 24 and then missed a couple of weeks of work, police said. Walsh has been the commission’s only employee in recent months and, following the accident, there were no other employees to help complete her job duties, which included basic bookkeeping.
“She was out for an extended period,” Ellsworth police Detective Chris Smith said Friday evening. “One of the board members attempted to pay some bills and realized they didn’t have enough money in the account to actually pay bills. That’s how it came to light.”
An official with the Hancock County Planning Commission contacted Ellsworth police on May 5 to tell them they believed Walsh had been stealing money from the nonprofit from September 2017 until she was in the accident.
The commission is a voluntary association that provides community planning and development services to local communities in the Hancock County region, according to a description posted on the commission’s website.
After detectives with the department inspected ledgers, bank statements and reports provided by the commission, they determined that tens of thousands of dollars were missing from the commission’s accounts.
“It’s actually over $100,000,” Glenn Moshier, Ellsworth’s police chief, said Friday. “She had worked there for 15 years.”
Walsh worked as the commission’s administrative assistant, according to the commission website, which appears to have last been updated in 2015.
Roderic Franzius, chairman of the commission’s executive board, said Friday that the commission office has been closed down since Walsh crashed her vehicle in Dedham. According to a Hancock County Sheriff’s Office accident summary, Walsh appeared to have “suffered from a medical condition that caused her to lose control of the vehicle” and go down a roadside embankment and into a large rock as she was driving on Route 1A at 8:30 that morning.
Franzius said that Walsh was the commmission’s only employee, so the office has been closed while she has been unable to work. He said that, given the allegations against her, he does not think Walsh will return to her job at the commission.
Franzius said that the commission has not made any decision about how to proceed with resuming operations since the alleged embezzlement came to light. He declined to comment on the allegations against Walsh.
“We want to have a full commission meeting as soon as possible,” he said.
Investigators with the federal government assisted local police in looking into the allegations.
“Because the federal government provided some of the funds allegedly embezzled, a special agent from the Office of Inspector General, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency joined the investigation,” Ellsworth police officials wrote in a release.
Walsh is expected to appear in court in Ellsworth on the charge at 8:30 a.m., June 18, 2019.
A Class B crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.