Former executive director of charity charged with embezzling - WSMV News 4

Former executive director of charity charged with embezzling $23,000

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The numbers kept adding up. Police say the Aaron McNeil Center bank account is missing more than $23,000, and former executive director Paula Russell is the reason why.

"The last week of May of this year, two full-time employees and one former full-time employee came to a board member and presented some information that indicated some fraud may have been occurring in the organization," said Aaron McNeil Center chairman of the board Bill Nichol.

The center, located near downtown Hopkinsville, offers a number of charitable services including the distribution of food. 

For two years, police say Russell was using a debit card owned by the charity for personal bills, meals, clothes, and cash withdrawals. The total finally came to more than $23,000 in unauthorized transactions with falsified expense reports to account for them.

"The way she took the money took roughly 26 months of time in fairly small increments," said Nichol. "That was part of the problem. It was hard to detect. Did it have any material impact in terms of food or other programs? We don't really think so. We still maintain a healthy cash balance, and we did throughout that period."

Nichol said Russell left the Aaron McNeil Center in May, with an audit investigation continuing for the next few months. She was arrested this week in Montgomery County on a fugitive of justice charge.

Channel 4 offered Russell an interview from the Christian County Jail, but she declined.

United Way officials said the Aaron McNeil Center is still up and running with a full staff. What they're trying to do now is find a new director.

"I have every confidence in their board of directors and their leadership," said Jennifer Maddux of the United Way. "They provide a great service to our community, and United Way certainly looks forward to continuing our partnership with them."

"We will recover the money through insurance," added Nichol. "We will prosecute the case to the fullest we can, and our services will not be impacted as a result of this problem."

Aaron McNeil Center officials said their programs have increased productivity in the time since Russell has been gone. They just started a new food alliance with Feed America.

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