SHEBOYGAN COUNTY -- Donna LaRue appeared in Sheboygan County court on Wednesday, March 6 for a preliminary hearing and arraignment -- and entered a plea of not guilty.
LaRue, 60, is accused of embezzling more than $500,000 from St. Vincent de Paul, where she served as bookkeeper beginning in January 2009. She faces one count of theft-business setting over $100,000.
In court on Wednesday, investigators testified she wrote more than 200 fraudulent checks in her employer's name, and spent the money on luxuries like a $7,000 wedding ring for her daughter. Those donations were meant for Sheboygan County churches. A detective testified she kept more than $557,000 for herself.
"These were $3,000, $4,000 checks," a detective testified. "Clothing. $500 per month on doggy day care."
"Were you able to positively identify the signature of Donna LaRue as being made by Donna LaRue?" asked LaRue's attorney.
"No," the detective replied.
"Were you able to obtain or anyone in law enforcement able to obtain video surveillance of Ms. LaRue depositing the checks at any financial institutions?" asked LaRue's attorney.
"No," the detective replied.
According to a criminal complaint a Sheboygan County sheriff's detective met with the St. Vincent de Paul district council president and board officials in late May 2018 regarding the theft.
LaRue was hired as the St. Vincent de Paul bookkeeper on a part-time basis in January 2009. She became the full-time bookkeeper in January 2018 -- and was the point person to be contacted when money was needed by a church conference. The St. Vincent de Paul officials said when a check was written to a church conference, it had to be signed by two executive board members, and LaRue had to use QuickBooks to track the donations/expenses. They noted that "sometimes, board members would sign blank checks if it was over the weekend." LaRue was assigned to take the checks to deliver them to the treasurers, who would cash the checks for their church's use. They said LaRue, as the bookkeeper, was the only one in charge of the checks and the QuickBooks entries.
The district council president said on May 12, 2018, she noticed a debit for $4,000 that "she did not sign for and did not recognize," and further investigation revealed 17 more, for $3,000 to $4,000. Each was written out to Donna LaRue, the complaint said. The president said she looked at the copies of the checks and realized her signature had been forged. She then notified sheriff's officials.
Prosecutors said LaRue covered up the crimes by recording that the checks had gone to the churches.
Officials with St. Vincent de Paul's executive board said they're working with an accounting firm to improve financial controls.
The organization receives funding solely from store revenue and community donations. Over the past year, the local chapter helped more than 6,200 families with nearly $400,000 worth of assistance.
LaRue's attorney argued there's no proof his client was behind the fraud.
"Obviously we do not have any evidence, so it's not appropriate for me to comment at this point," LaRue's attorney said.
A pre-trial conference was scheduled for April 6. A plea hearing was set for April 25. A jury trial will begin on May 9.