Finley water system treasurer pleads innocent to theft

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldMay 31, 2014 

The treasurer of a Finley community water system is charged with pocketing about $34,000 in membership dues that had been earmarked for bills and the eventual replacement of the neighborhood well.

Christine Renee Kesler, 45, faces an Aug. 4 trial in Benton County Superior Court on one count of first-degree theft. She has pleaded innocent.

The alleged theft from the Sundance Improvement Association happened between March 2008 and this January. When it came to light earlier this year, the nonprofit organization reportedly only had $100 in the checking account and a number of past-due bills.

Kesler was relieved of her duties in March.

Prosecutors allege the theft was a major economic offense to the association because it involved multiple incidents, the attempted or actual monetary loss was more than normal, it happened over a long period of time, and Kesler used her position of trust or fiduciary responsibility to commit the crime.

The association is comprised of 26 property owners who live in the same neighborhood and share a well, according to court documents. Each member pays approximately $720 in dues a year for upkeep of the well and routine costs like property taxes and water testing.

The association also had been preparing to replace the well sometime before 2019 and was trying to build up a reserve through membership fees to cover anticipated project costs, documents said.

As treasurer, Kesler was supposed to receive the dues and write checks for association expenses. She had sole control of the checkbook and a co-signer was not required on checks.

Kesler allegedly wrote more than 200 unauthorized checks on the association's account over the six years, in addition to making electronic fund transfers and cash withdrawals.

The unauthorized checks were written to Kesler, to "cash," to medical providers and to Tri-City merchants, court documents said.

At the same time, Kesler was not paying association bills by the due date or at all, documents said.

After it was discovered that the organization was missing funds, several members reportedly contributed extra money over their current dues so they could pay the delinquent bills, court documents said.

When Kesler was let go, she wrote a letter to the association "apologizing for the theft and stating that she took the money because she and her husband were having financial problems due to medical issues."

Herald records show that Kesler and her husband filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2009, with debts listed at $280,806 and assets at $144,949.

Kesler is out of custody while fighting the allegations.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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