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Published: Saturday, 1/3/2004

Little League aide faces theft charge

BY JOE MAHR
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Catherine Eppard Catherine Eppard
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For two years Catherine Eppard helped her husband run the Maumee Little League. Police now say that she was also helping herself - to more than $30,000 in league cash.

Beyond exposing the financial vulnerability of the all-volunteer league, the alleged theft of one-fourth of the league s annual budget has complicated plans for a 2004 season.

“We re nonprofit,” league president Dave Theaker said. “We basically go shoelace to shoelace.”

Ms. Eppard, 37, who works at the 6th District Court of Appeals in Toledo, was charged yesterday in Maumee Municipal Court with three counts of grand theft, a fourth degree felony; three counts of tampering with records, a misdemeanor, and one count of misdemeanor theft.

Maumee Sgt. Gayle Lohrbach said detectives are trying to figure out where the money went.

Detectives searched her home, 1740 Cass Rd., about 8 a.m. yesterday and confiscated files and documents from the league, which has 700 children.

Ms. Eppard was the league treasurer for the 2002 and 2003 seasons - the same time her husband, Mark, was president of the league. He has not been charged in the alleged theft, and she has been released on a recognizance bond.

The couple, who have three children in the league, declined comment last night.

Mr. Theaker said the problems surfaced in September, when a new crop of board members took over the league. Ms. Eppard presented the new group with a $15,000 bill from a sporting-good store.

The bill should have been covered under the league s $110,000 budget, which is funded from fees paid by families, fund-raisers, sponsors, and some city money, Mr. Theaker said. Pepsi soon called saying the league hadn t paid its $7,500 bill, he said.

“I called all 17 suppliers and we owed every one of them,” he said.

The league, which was supposed to have $6,000 to spare at the end of last season, now owes $32,000.

Mr. Theaker said the board soon learned that Ms. Eppard had written $22,000 in checks to herself and her husband for various things. One included an $850 check for field maintenance.

Another was a $750 check for a new lawn mower. Both checks struck Mr. Theaker as odd, he said, because he had been taking care of the fields for years and he had a lawn mower.

Mr. Theaker said league officials tried to negotiate with the Eppards and their attorney to get the money back. When that didn t work, he said, they presented their evidence to Maumee police on Tuesday.

Yesterday morning, Ms. Eppard was on her way to work at the appeals court, where she is an administrative staffer, when police showed up at her door. Her husband, still at home, called her back, and she was arrested. She was arraigned in municipal court, Sergeant Lohrback said.

Mr. Theaker said he s not sure how the league will pay back the money.

First it needs to figure out how to have a 2004 season.

The league is about $300 short of the $3,500 it needs to raise to buy an annual charter and insurance - money that historically had come out of the previous year s surplus. The league needs a charter and insurance before it can begin registering kids, which the league hoped to do at the end of the month.

And then there s the $32,000 in unpaid debts.

“Right now, we can t buy equipment for the 2004 season because we can t ask somebody to skip the 2003 bills,” Mr. Theaker said.

If the money can t be recovered, Mayor Tim Wagener said he believed city council would consider advancing the league some money to at least get the league started.

In the meantime, the league has changed how it oversees the books. The all-volunteer organization in the past had allowed the treasurer full control of the money - assuming that the books were being kept honestly.

Now, Mr. Theaker said, the league has two treasurers.



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