A bookkeeper charged with stealing thousands of dollars from the Girls Club of Phenix City is expected to plead guilty next week to one count of felony theft, according to court documents and interviews.
Larry D. Bush, 75, was fired last year and indicted on charges he pocketed about $8,200 from the club over four years. Prosecutors said Bush secretly wrote himself several additional paychecks for a couple of hundred dollars, at times several in the same month.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, Bush faces a possible prison sentence between 14 and 46 months, Assistant District Attorney Buster Landreau said.
But even if Bush is sentenced to prison and ordered to pay restitution, club officials said they still will struggle to pay the bills and keep programs running smoothly because of a $22,000 debt they owe the Internal Revenue Service. The club has accused Bush of failing to pay some of the club’s tax withholdings, but prosecutors said there is no evidence he stole that money and no criminal charges have come from the late taxes.
The additional checks went unnoticed for years until club director Malinda Wilkes noticed an irregularity last year in a club bank statement, said Milton Mobley, vice president of the club’s board. Bush apologized when he was confronted about the thefts, Mobley said, and offered to keep the books for free if the club would not alert the authorities, an offer the club rejected.
“He stole that money from kids -- he didn’t steal it from no grown people,” Mobley said. “We put too much trust in the guy without following it up like we should have.”
Bush declined to comment Wednesday. His defense attorney, Eric B. Funderburk, did not return a call seeking comment.
Club officials expressed frustration that the case against Bush does not take into account the taxes he failed to pay as bookkeeper. Mobley said the IRS recently threatened to place a padlock on the club’s door if it did not receive payment.
“I pleaded mercy and they said they would give us six weeks to come up with a plan,” said Sonya McBride, the club’s new bookkeeper. “I’m going to ask them to abate the penalties.”
Mobley stressed that no programs have yet been canceled, adding the club is planning several fundraisers to help with the debt.
“We were in pretty good financial shape before this all came about,” Mobley said. “We’ve been a little relaxed in (raising funds) because you burn people out.”
McBride said the club has had to cut corners because of the strained finances. She said the girls were not allowed last summer to play in the gym because the club could not afford the cost of operating it. In the kitchen, where the girls learn to cook, tin foil is being reused, McBride added.
“They were unsuspecting and didn’t know, and I just feel really sorry for them,” McBride said of the club’s board. “How do you pay back $22,000 when you have $4,000 in your bank account?”