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Thrift store manager accused of taking money intended for Tarpon Springs charity

TARPON SPRINGS — The manager of a thrift store that helps support the nonprofit Shepherd Center of Tarpon Springs has been arrested on suspicion of diverting thousands of dollars from the store for her own use over a period of three years, according to police.

Cynthia Chapman, 55, of Tarpon Springs was arrested Sunday on a felony count of scheming to defraud the prominent charitable organization. Tarpon Springs police said Chapman took $4,582 from the Shepherd Center thrift store between January 2009 and the beginning of this year.

Police said the missing money was brought to their attention by the Shepherd Center, which offers free food, clothes and health services to the poor and operates the thrift store on S Pinellas Avenue in downtown Tarpon Springs.

The store, which opened at its current location in 2007, generated $228,000 through sales in 2010, according to tax records. That made up almost half of the Shepherd Center's $529,000 in annual revenue, the rest coming from grants and contributions.

Beverley Billiris, former Tarpon Springs mayor and president of the Shepherd Center board of directors, said Chapman's employment was terminated months ago after board members and staff became aware of "discrepancies" in the center's finances, and that the information they had was promptly reported to police.

Billiris said the episode should not reflect negatively on the Shepherd Center, which is struggling, like many charities, to find adequate grants and contributions in a down economy.

"It would be negative if we took a blind eye to it and didn't prosecute," she said. "I think that anyone that contributes to the Shepherd Center will appreciate that we do have strong oversight."

Chapman was released on $5,000 bail Sunday from the Pinellas County Jail. She did not respond to phone calls and a note left at her home in Tarpon Springs.

Tarpon Springs police Detective William Peters said Chapman acknowledged taking the money from the Shepherd Center, but never said what became of it. "She admits that she diverted the funds," Peters said. "She never would tell us why or where they went."

Peters said Chapman was taking the money from a stream of revenue that came from Anclote Metal Recycling in Tarpon Springs. The thrift shop brought unusable donated items to the scrap-metal facility, which paid for them. Peters said Chapman began taking that money, which was supposed to go from Anclote to the Shepherd Center.

Michael Moritz, operations manager at Anclote Metal Recycling, said he was "flabbergasted" when he learned of Chapman's alleged behavior.

"She was very kind, a very nice woman," he said. "I just couldn't believe it."

Tarpon Springs police Capt. Jeffrey Young said detectives continue to investigate and might file additional charges in the case.

Peter Jamison can be reached at pjamison@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4157.

Thrift store manager accused of taking money intended for Tarpon Springs charity 08/30/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 30, 2012 5:46pm]
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