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Massena woman stole nearly $6,000 from Little League, troopers say

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MASSENA — A former treasurer stands accused of stealing nearly $6,000 from a youth baseball organization, allegedly funneling some of that money directly into her own account.

State police on Wednesday charged Julie A. Haas, 43, 7 Brothers Road, with a felony count of third-degree grand larceny, alleging that she stole $5,973.25 from Massena Little League, Inc. between March 2008 and October 2010. Her arrest follows nearly a nearly three-month investigation in which current league officials told troopers they discovered years’ worth of questionable transactions associated with Ms. Haas, including cash transfers to her personal savings account.

J. Eric Firnstein, who succeeded Ms. Haas as treasurer at an October 2010 meeting, told state police that Ms. Haas and former president Herbie Currier presented a financial report at that meeting showing the league had a cash balance of $3.26. Adrian F. Taraska, who succeeded Mr. Currier as president, told troopers there was $3,500 in the account when he and Mr. Firnstein were elected.

Mr. Firnstein and Mr. Taraska went on to discover many recordkeeping discrepancies, according to court documents.

“Subsequent to the meeting, as part of my new duties, I requested records from Ms. Haas and Mr. Currier. We received nothing,” Mr. Firnstein said in a deposition signed on Tuesday. “It was several months before Ms. Haas presented us with any formal records.”

State police Investigator Darin C. Chartrand said Thursday that troopers are not looking at any other suspects.

Once he had access to league bank records, Mr. Firnstein told troopers, he found numerous “non-seasonal” transactions “that did not have any obvious association with the operation of Massena Little League,” including ATM withdrawals on Christmas Eve, one at a bowling alley and transfers to Ms. Haas’s own account. He also reported finding payments to a Chase credit card in the name of Ms. Haas’s sister, Susan M. Kirkey.

Mr. Firnstein said Ms. Haas submitted a written note acknowledging about $5,000 in league debt on a credit card in her sister’s name, which she said she intended to pay off.

In an Oct. 25 deposition, Ms. Kirkey said that Ms. Haas contacted her about four or five years ago “and asked me if I would open up a credit card to pay off one for Massena Little League,” as Ms. Haas was under pressure to settle the outstanding account.

“At this time, Julie was in the hospital, but I would have helped her out anyhow,” Ms. Kirkey told troopers.

“I have never seen any statements from this account, and just assumed Julie was making the payments,” added Ms. Kirkey, who said Ms. Haas told her a few months ago that the balance was under $1,000 and would soon be paid off.

Similarly, Mr. Firnstein told troopers that he and the new league administration gave Ms. Haas “the benefit of the doubt.” After reviewing the records and running the league for two years, he and the board “felt obligated” to the players, the organization and the sponsors to contact police and pursue charges.

Investigator Chartrand said league officials approached him in September. His investigation included depositions by Mr. Taraska, Mr. Firnstein and Ms. Kirkey.

Over the two years since he has been treasurer, Mr. Firnstein told state police that the league generated $69,931 in revenue and $59,871 in expenses while operating “under the same number of sponsors and participating children as they had in the past.” Mr. Taraska said in his Sept. 6 deposition that the group has built up a surplus of $16,000.

Ms. Haas pleaded not guilty on Wednesday in an appearance before Massena Town Justice Gerald P. Sharlow, where she was represented by attorney Daniel S. Pease.

The defense waived the right to a preliminary hearing, sending the case to Superior Court for possible presentation to a grand jury. Judge Sharlow released Ms. Haas on her own recognizance.

A call to Mr. Pease’s office Thursday afternoon was answered by a woman who identified herself only as an employee after saying the office would have no comment on the case.

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