ELLSWORTH — Police arrested a Newport woman and charged her with theft on May 16 after she allegedly embezzled $100,000 from the Hancock County Planning Commission (HCPC), according to a press release from the Ellsworth Police Department.
Sheri G. Walsh, 55, an HCPC employee who has served various roles at the nonprofit, including interim executive director, was charged with theft by unauthorized taking or transfer, Class B and taken to Hancock County Jail.
Walsh is still technically employed by the commission, said Board Chairman Rod Franzius, who declined to comment on the case, although she has not been in to work since being involved in a car accident in late April.
Franzius said commissioners “haven’t really determined” what will happen with Walsh’s employment in light of her arrest, and that the board had not set a date to meet but had been meeting regularly and would continue to do so.
Police received a report on May 5 from a commission representative who believed a former employee had been stealing money from a business account.
Police investigated ledgers, bank statements and reports and determined that $100,000 had gone missing between September 2017 and this April, according to a press release.
A special agent from the Office of Inspector General, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), joined the investigation because some of the money had come from the federal government.
Walsh has worked for the nonprofit for nearly 15 years, Franzius said. The money allegedly went missing in part during a period in which Walsh was serving as interim executive director, according to federal tax filings, which list her as holding that position for fiscal years 2017 and 2018.
Walsh took over director responsibilities after former executive director Tom Martin, who had been with the HCPC since 1990, retired from the organization due to health issues, according to an Orland town report. She has also served as administrative assistant, bookkeeper and planning technician.
Franzius said he wasn’t sure whether Walsh’s arrest would jeopardize the future of the HCPC.
“I can’t really say one way or another,” Franzius said. “That’s really up to the full commission.”
The Hancock County Planning Commission is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that offers advising services to municipalities that may not have the budget to pay a full-time planner. Commission staff members work with towns on a wide range of issues, from historic preservation to housing development and recycling.
The HCPC operates with a board of directors and a small staff. Its website lists an executive director and administrative assistant, although over the years newsletters indicate it has also had several planners on staff.
The commission did hire a regional planner, Anne Krieg, in February 2018, but she left the organization shortly thereafter.
Much of the commission’s work relies on federal and state grants. In 2014, for example, the commission was awarded a $400,000 “community-wide assessment” grant from the U.S. EPA, part of a program to clean up contaminated Brownfield sites, according to congressional reports.
In 2016, the commission got another $400,000 grant from the same program, also for “assessment.”
But despite a largely steady revenue stream, HCPC has struggled financially, operating at a net loss since 2013, according to federal tax documents.
Its most recent abbreviated filings show a roughly $400,000 drop in revenue between 2017 and 2018, when it had negative revenue and operated with a nearly $9,000 loss.
It also operated with losses of $120,317 in 2017, but brought in $402,002 that year.
Walsh is due to appear in court on June 18 at 8:30 a.m.
Correction: A previous version of this story contained an error. Walsh is still technically employed by the Hancock County Planning Commission.