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MacCallum More rocked by alleged employee fraud

SoVaNow.com / January 16, 2013
MacCallum More Museum and Gardens (MMMG) is missing at least $7,000 in operating funds after a recently hired office manager allegedly failed to deposit cash from fundraisers into the museum’s bank account, causing it to overdraw for the past two months.

The museum also believes the former employee forged checks, ran up credit card charges unrelated to museum operations and failed to pay the bills for December.

The museum has closed its doors for January and February and its future is very much in question, MacCallum More representatives said in a letter to the local media distributed on Monday.

Board member Dottie Bratton called the apparent embezzlement a “well-planned and executed scheme, allegedly carried out by our recently hired officer manager” who is no longer with the museum. Museum representatives have not had contact with her since the end of December when she was last known to be in the area, said Bratton.

MMMG representatives and Chase City Police Chief Jay Jordan declined to provide the identity of the former employee while the investigation is ongoing, but Jordan confirmed that the department is seeking “a person of interest.

“We are pretty certain that we will apprehend this person,” said Jordan.

According to a letter signed by Bratton, wife of Chase City Mayor Eddie Bratton, the MacCallum More Board of Directors discovered several financial irregularities on Friday, December 21.

“It was determined that the cash received from our fundraisers had never been deposited and our monthly bills for December had not been paid. A visit to our bank proved that the balance that had been reported to us was false and that we had been overdrawn in our account for the last two months. In addition, several checks with a forged authorized signature had been written and cashed. Upon further investigation, it was revealed that MMMG’s credit card had been used excessively for purchases not related to the gardens or museum.”

MMMG notified the town police shortly after the alleged theft was uncovered. Bratton said, “The proper paperwork has now been filed to locate, arrest, and prosecute the person believed responsible for these crimes.”

Additionally a local bookkeeper has donated his time to perform a forensic review of the museum and garden’s financial records to ascertain the full extent of its loss.

“We know that over $7,000 was taken but we are still waiting for the itemized list of purchases from the credit card company and also for any outstanding checks to be processed before a final calculation can be made,” said Bratton.

Even before the alleged embezzlement, MacCallum More did not raise sufficient funds to cover the cost to maintain and operate the museum last year. The Chase City landmark hosted an assortment of fundraisers, including luncheons, dinners, art shows, a rifle raffle, the Southern Virginia Chili Cook-Off, the Christmas Bazaar, and the Garden’s Grand Christmas Illumination in an ongoing effort to bring in more cash. A more recent fundraiser and an undisclosed long-term idea to make the museum and gardens financially solid did not work out, Bratton said. As a result, the Board released all but one employee and closed the doors to the museum and gardens for the next two months.

Since the sole purpose of MacCallum More Museum and Gardens is to operate for the benefit of every citizen in the community and to those in surrounding areas, the Board of Directors agreed to publicly disclose the issue, said Executive Director Diana Ramsey. “We want the public to learn the facts from us,” she added.

The MacCallum More’s Board is appealing to the community to provide suggestions on how to keep the doors open to the museum and gardens. Bratton said, “With MMMG’s rich history, it would be truly devastating to see this historical landmark close its doors permanently. It is our hope that a group of diverse volunteers will form a committee to offer us ways to keep MMMG open to the public and to the numerous visitors who come to Chase City to tour the gardens and museum. Meanwhile, we will continue to hold fundraisers, accept donations, and hopefully keep the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Edward Wren Hudgins and his wife, Lucy, alive.”

Last year MacCallum More Museum and Gardens was designated as Chase City’s Visitors Center. For now, the town is without a central information point for out-of-town guests.

Anyone willing to serve as a volunteer is invited to contact Diana Ramsey, Executive Director, at 434-372-0502 or email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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