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Clearwater Jr. Tornadoes leader arrested in theft

CLEARWATER — The vice president of the Clearwater Jr. Tornadoes was arrested Thursday, accused of stealing $3,465 from the youth football and cheerleading organization.

According to Clearwater police, Stephanie M. Powalski used the group's checking account to pay her rent and the debit card to make a car payment.

Powalski, 33, who has a son and a daughter in the organization, was removed from her volunteer position after the thefts were discovered.

She declined to comment Friday.

On July 3, she used the nonprofit's checking account to write a $1,300 check for rent, police said. She paid her landlord an additional $150 that day.

On Aug. 3, she wrote another check for $1,300 to pay her rent, police said.

Then on Aug. 20, Powalski used the Clearwater Jr. Tornadoes' debit card at a Publix supermarket to purchase a money order for $714.99, which she used to make her car payment, police said.

Regan Hensley, president of the nonprofit, said the thefts were identified during a monthly audit. Powalski told the group she had receipts for the expenses, Hensley said. She was given until noon Sept. 5 to show the receipts or pay restitution, but she did neither.

According to police, Powalski lost her job in March and is unemployed.

On June 30, a debt collection agency sued Powalski, claiming she owed $1,547.92 to Bank of America.

When Powalski couldn't come up with receipts or restitution for the Clearwater Jr. Tornadoes, the nonprofit decided to pursue a criminal prosecution.

"It's an unfortunate set of events but we had to do what was best for our organization and the kids that are in it," Hensley said, "because we are all for the children out there."

The group sponsors football for boys and cheerleading for girls. About 420 children ranging in age from 5 to 15 participate.

Powalski was charged Thursday with one count of grand theft and released from the Pinellas County Jail on $5,000 bail.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Clearwater Jr. Tornadoes leader arrested in theft 09/19/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 24, 2008 7:55pm]
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