BRUNSWICK - A U.S. Secret Service agent testified Monday that a former Brunswick church day care center director admitted forging checks to steal more than $80,000 from the day care's bank account in slightly more than a year.
Harriette D. Stafford is charged with 29 counts of possessing and uttering forged securities of an organization; bank fraud and aggravated identity theft in a case in which an assistant U.S. attorney focused on the sin of greed.
Stafford, now of Stone Mountain, is accused of siphoning money from the bank account of the Life Community Child Development Center, which operated at the New Life Community Church in Brunswick.
The money, taken from May 2005 through July 2006, was intended to help pay for low-cost day care for underprivileged children. It included state and federal funds and donations from the church's members, Secret Service Agent William Griffin told the U.S. District Court jury hearing the case.
The church pastor, Terrence B. Calloway, reported the money missing to Brunswick police detectives, who then asked for Secret Service assistance in investigating the case, said Griffin, the lead investigator in the case.
Calloway, who Stafford's attorney told jurors is the real culprit, is expected to be a government witness against her.
Griffin and police detective Len Schmauch confronted Stafford about the missing funds on April 23, 2007. At that time, the investigation showed Stafford had used four methods to steal a total of $100,209 from the day care, Griffin testified.
The investigation showed Stafford stole most of the money by writing checks to herself and by forging the signature of the day care's assistant director's signature on other checks. She also wrote checks on the church's bank account to cover her personal bankruptcy payments and double-paid herself as director, Griffin testified.
"When we sat down with Ms. Stafford and confronted her, she admitted that she'd done it. She admitted that she'd forged [assistant director] Cynthia Boggs name on the checks. Ms. Stafford also admitted writing checks out to herself," Griffin testified.
Earlier, one of Stafford's cousins, who also worked at the day care, testified against her. Lessie Southall of Brunswick told jurors Stafford had said she owned the day care.
"She'd write out a check for a certain amount and ask me to go cash it and bring her back the money. The check was from the day care center account and it happened several times," Southall testified.
Southall also said she didn't know what the money was for when Stafford asked her to cash the checks.
In his opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian T. Rafferty told the jury of 10 women and two men that Stafford stole the money out of greed. At the time, she secretly was in personal bankruptcy and used the stolen money to pay for a $4,000 wedding on Jekyll Island, luxuries and her new husband's child support payments, Rafferty said.
"She used the day care center as her personal piggy bank," Rafferty told the jury. "This is a case about greed: one of the seven deadly sins, one of the oldest vices."
Because of that, the center struggled financially from the beginning, and the paychecks of its employees - most low-income single mothers - couldn't be cashed right away because there wouldn't be enough money in the day care's bank account, Rafferty said.
However Stafford's attorney, John Wetzler, told the jury the evidence will show she was framed by Calloway. He controlled all the money and manipulated the situation so Stafford would be blamed when the fraud was discovered, Wetzler said.
"He made sure my client's name would be on everything ... The truth is Pastor Terrence B. Calloway contrived this whole situation and allowed Harriette Stafford, his loyal worshiper, to be his sacrificial lamb," Wetzler said in his opening statement.
The trial before Senior U.S. District Judge Anthony Alaimo is expected to conclude today.
If convicted of all charges, Stafford faces a total of 50 years on the five counts of forged securities charges; a total of 570 years on the 19 counts of bank fraud and a total of 10 years on the five counts of aggravated identity theft charges.