LAKELAND — Throughout the year, but particularly during the holidays, civic organizations rely on the goodwill of the public to help them raise the money needed to provide services and assistance to families and individuals in need.
They also rely on something else: honest workers, volunteers and board members.
The members of a Polk County charitable organization, the Imperial Lions Club, got a shock on Monday when the civic club’s ex-treasurer got arrested, charged with stealing more than $50,000 from the club.
Caroline Bonds, 49, of E. Bella Vista Street in Lakeland, was arrested on Monday night and booked into the Polk County Jail, and she is now facing charges of scheming to defraud more than $50,000, grand theft, and five counts of money laundering. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said Bonds is accused of stealing $50,378 from the Imperial Lions.
She had been the treasurer of the club since 2005, but quit in early 2012, noted Scott Wilder, the director of communications for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, in his report on the arrest.
She is being held on $25,000 bond.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd called this case a sad abuse of an organization that tries to help others.
“This is a terrible breach of trust,” Judd said. “The Imperial Lions Club has a long history of helping others in Lakeland and Polk County. This woman, who was relied upon by club members to do the right thing, systematically stole over $50,000 that was intended to help the community. She is now in jail — where she belongs.”
The investigation started recently after a member of the Imperial Lions Club contacted the Polk County Sheriff’s Office to report the possibility of the embezzlement of funds from the club’s bank accounts, Wilder noted.
“Substantial amounts of money were missing from accounts,” Wilder noted. “After receiving over six years of bank records through subpoena requests, detectives conducted a forensic audit of the Lion’s Club accounts.”
The audit revealed that the Lions Club opened CD (certificate of deposits) bank accounts in the amount of $50,000 in June, 2006.
“During the same day of the deposit, an unauthorized cash withdrawal was made by Bonds,” Wilder noted.
From June of 2006 until June of 2011, Bonds withdrew and transferred $51,773 from Lions Club accounts to herself and her personal bank account, Wilder added.
Then from June 2011 until this past January, “in an attempt to avoid detection, Bond transferred minimal funds back into the Lions Club account to pay bills that were due,” Wilder said.
He also noted that during a post-Miranda interview with detectives, “Bonds made a full confession to all charges.”
Anyone who wants to contact the Imperial Lions Club to help out can write to P.O. Box 2095, Lakeland FL 33806.
W.J. Martin, chief of law enforcement for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said there is a lesson here for civic groups.
“We strongly urge all civic clubs, non-profits, and other charitable organizations to maintain strong internal controls for all their funds,” Martin said. “Organizations should have built-in checks and balances and oversight for all financial accounts and transactions.”
Be cautious, he added, of trusting one individual to oversee all financial operations.
“If the same person has total control on all incoming and outgoing funds, the opportunity for theft exists,” Martin said. “Regular reconciliations and audits should be conducted by independent parties.”
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