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Former charity employee gets federal prison term for embezzling $450K

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Posted at 11:39 PM, Aug 24, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS — A judge has ordered a Speedway woman to spend 27 months in federal prison for orchestrating a six-year scheme to steal more than $450,000 from the charitable foundations where she worked.

According to a report from the U.S. Attorney's Office, Christina Short, 43, of Speedway, stole donations from Zeta Tau Alpha, a national women's college fraternity headquartered in Carmel, and deposited them into her own bank accounts.

Federal prosecutors said Short stole 816 donations between 2012 through November 2018 when she was fired. Prosecutors said she used the $450,874.48 she stole primarily for personal expenses, such as restaurants, clothing, youth sports and vacations.

"Those who donate to charitable causes should feel secure in knowing their funds will go where they intended," U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler said. "And those who choose to steal should likewise know that they will be caught, prosecuted, and held accountable in court."

Zeta Tau Alpha has thousands of student members across approximately 170 colleges throughout the country and approximately 200,000 living alumni members.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said Short worked for the organization for over 16 years as the financial coordinator for the ZTA Foundation, which raises money for scholarships and educational opportunities for ZTA students and alumni as well as for breast cancer awareness. As financial coordinator, she was responsible for receiving donations in the mail, depositing them in the Foundation's bank account, and ensuring the donations were accounted for the in the Foundation's financial ledgers.

Federal prosecutors said Short focused on stealing money orders or other donations that would not cause the donor to be alerted if the donation was deposited in her bank account. When she altered the "pay to" line on money orders, she used over 14 different variations of her name or maiden name to disguise the scheme from her bank.

Prosecutors also said Short made sure to record all donations, including the ones she stole, in the Foundation's donation database software, which ensured donors received confirmation and assurance their donations were received, including thank you cards and tax receipts. Donors would also see their name in ZTA publications even though the money actually went to Short.

It was a bank examiner that noticed a suspicious-looking deposit and contacted ZTA, who confronted Short. She allegedly admitted to stealing only that check and was terminated. The FBI and Carmel police launched an investigation that uncovered the six-year scheme.

"Embezzlement is a crime that diverts funds from their intended use and causes harm to businesses and individuals," Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan, FBI Indianapolis, said. "This sentence clearly shows that if you choose to commit this type of crime, you will be held accountable for your actions."

The U.S. Attorney's Office said Short will be responsible for repaying the entire amount she stole. She will also serve three years of supervised release after she's released from federal prison. Short made an initial repayment amount of $30,000, prosecutors said.