Betrayal at BEC?
Suspected embezzlement strikes environmental nonprofit
Butte Environmental Council is out at least $2,000 after alleged embezzlement resulted in the arrest of a five-year, part-time employee.
Chico resident Kylene Hees, 35, was arrested in the case after an investigation by the Chico Police Department.
“She has been formally charged with grand theft by embezzlement … for two $1,000 checks that she wrote herself,” said Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey. “She had no authority to write checks to herself.”
The checks were written in August and October of 2005, and were discovered by BEC Executive Director Barbara Vlamis as she went over the books as part of a “non-routine audit,” Ramsey said.
Vlamis spoke carefully at the advice of the 30-year-old environmental nonprofit’s lawyer. “We all believe in due process,” she said.
“An internal audit revealed some inconsistencies,” she said. “We’re disappointed, and we wish to assure all of our supporters that we remain sound and committed to our environmental goals.”
Ramsey added that “further investigation is ongoing” by the Chico Police Department. “This may not be the only [charge].” While the case went briefly before a judge on Feb. 3, no further court dates have been set. Ramsey said the sentence when someone is convicted of such a crime varies, and a lot of it depends on the degree of remorse.
Hees has no criminal record in Butte County, but has been a defendant or co-defendant in a handful of civil cases, including collections and small claims. She did not return a call left with a relative by press time.
Hees worked in the BEC office part-time from April 2000 to December 2005, Vlamis confirmed.
Ramsey said embezzlement is “much more common than people believe, and it’s become more common.” Unfortunately, he said, many cases never go to trial because the victim is too embarrassed to admit he or she was “had” by an employee.
“That’s been one of the big problems we’re trying to overcome,” Ramsey said. “The major injury and harm has always been to the employer’s sense of trust.”
In recent years, longtime employees at two Chico businesses—Sounds By Dave and Orient & Flume—were found, in separate cases, to have embezzled large amounts of money.
“Sounds by Dave was the watershed,” Ramsey said, because the businessowner came forward to speak publicly about the embezzlement, perhaps making it easier for other victims to do so.
The District Attorney’s Office urges business owners to have their books independently reviewed at least once a year. Typical methods of embezzlement include: not depositing cash that comes into a business, writing checks to oneself and misusing company credit cards.
“We encourage people to make that report rather than not making that report out of fear of embarrassment,” Ramsey said.
Vlamis said that the incident has had some unexpected positive results.
It spurred member-governed BEC, which has a budget of about $100,000 a year, to seek greater involvement from its board of directors and membership, including plans to include past board members to serve as “alumni” or “ex officio” representatives. “We want to bring back people who have historic perspective,” Vlamis said. “We really do need more participation by our members.”
BEC’s board was scheduled to meet this week to consider changes to how it’s governed.
“BEC’s in good shape and has instituted additional layers,” Vlamis added. “The organization has not been impacted beyond what we’re aware of at this time.
“The plan is for us to have outside bookkeeping and for our treasurer to have more regular contact with our system of managing finances.”