The YWCA Oklahoma City is an organization whose mission is to help and protect women and children who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. Now, the organization's former chief financial officer is accused of embezzling more than $280,000 from YWCA in just over two years, in essence victimizing the women she was employed to help.
Charges of Embezzlement
Shannon Marie Rickards, 41, was charged earlier this month with one count of embezzlement after allegedly stealing $281,410 from the YWCA Oklahoma City's thrift store, Our Sisters' Closet. Revenue from the resale shop was intended to support YWCA crisis services and programs for local women and children.
Investigators say Rickards admitted to transferring ownership of two bank cards to her name and to using those cards to withdraw funds from the resale shops accounts. Allegedly, she also admitted to altering bank statements to hide the embezzlement, which investigators say continued from October 2010 until January of this year. They say security footage from gambling establishments shows Rickards using the cards at ATMs at those locations.
The YWCA Oklahoma City began investigating after an official noticed an unauthorized withdrawal of $500. (Read the Affidavit of Probable Cause here.) When the investigation indicated that the CFO had been embezzling funds from the charity's resale shop, the organization terminated her employment. Rickards had worked for the YWCA Oklahoma City for five years. Her LinkedIn account still lists her as "Director of Finance/Grants Administrator at YWCA OKC."
She was charged on May 9 and turned herself in to police on May 13. She was booked into the Oklahoma County Jail and released.
Shannon Rickards was investigated by the Public Protection Unit of the Office of the Attorney General. In a press release about the case, Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt said, "Those who seek to take advantage of a charity must be held accountable. Unfortunately, a crime like this can harm a reputable charity like the YWCA and its staff who work diligently to serve the needs of women and children in our communities."
Penalties for Embezzling in Oklahoma
Under Oklahoma law, the penalties for conviction of embezzlement are dependent upon the severity of the misappropriation and the value of the funds or property embezzled. For example, if the value is less than $500, embezzlement is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Embezzlement of $500 or more is a felony. The most serious penalties are associated with embezzlement of $25,000 or more, which is a felony punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and restitution to the victim.
Anyone suspected of misappropriating funds should immediately seek legal counsel from an experienced white collar crime lawyer. If you are under investigation, it is advisable to protect your right to remain silent if you are questioned by employers or investigators and to insist upon having your attorney present during questioning.