Lumberton band booster club treasurer charged with theft

Helen Cox

Helen Cox told police that she gambled in three different states and spent more than $70,000 from the Lumberton Band booster club account over a five-month period to “relieve stress from work and [her] divorce,” according to the probable cause affidavit for her arrest notarized Nov. 30. Cox had been appointed treasurer of the club the previous school year in April, and the board signed her onto the account in late May and issued her a debit card early June.

Lumberton Police took Cox into custody Thursday, Dec. 1. She is being charged with a third-degree felony, “misapplication of fiduciary property,” the charge for a theft between $30,000 and $150,000. Usually this charge is punishable with two to 10 years in the state penitentiary and up to a $10,000 fine, according to Lumberton Police Chief Danny Sullins.

The board had originally reported the theft to the Lumberton Police Department and appointed an interim treasurer in an emergency meeting Oct. 20, as previously reported by the Examiner. Lumberton Band Booster Club president Randy Eason announced the loss on the band’s Facebook page Sunday, Oct. 23.

Police believe the theft occurred between June 5 and Oct. 18, 2016, Sullins said in a press conference Dec. 1.

The booster club has not been able to recover the funds. “Especially at the casino — it’s gone,” Lumberton Police Detective Joseph Breaux said. 

Breaux stated that booster funds were spent in casinos in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Most of the other purchases were made at retailers and ATM withdrawals around the Beaumont area.

Cox spent the money in $300 and $500 chunks, but sometimes as much as $1,000 in one sitting, Breaux stated. Some of her purchases were made with checks, but most of the transactions were on the debit card.

Eason explained at the press conference that he discovered the funds were missing when several checks were returned for insufficient funds.

Eason said he trusted Cox, who was a forensic accountant specializing in loss prevention at Jason’s Deli, where she reportedly had no access to cash. She had been part of the band booster for about two years, and her daughter is a drum major.

Eason said the loss affected over 600 students ranging from sixth grade through high school and had “a very detrimental effect on the band.” The band had $38,000 of unpaid bills when the loss was discovered, he said.

Other local school bands, including Kountze, Sour Lake, Hardin Jefferson, and some as far as Houston, reached out to the Mighty Raiders to help raise funds, according to Eason. 

The board changed its accounting process and now all board members receive statements from the credit union and security alerts for each transaction, Eason explained, adding, “We’re ready to get this behind us.” Eason said he is overseeing the rewriting of the bylaws, permanently implementing the new process.

When the bank manager showed Eason the online statements Oct. 18, he said he almost fainted.

“They said that all the blood run out of my face,” Eason said. “It was just a complete shock to me when I found out what had happened.”

Lori Sell had been the treasurer before Cox for two years.

Sell gave Cox the books May 17, and the first illegitimate transaction was June 6, she explained. 

“She’d left us with about $2.29 in the checking account,” said Sell.

Eason indicated that one of the other three accounts was “overdrawn by about $200.”

During an interview with the Lumberton Police Department Oct. 18, Cox confessed to using band funds for her own personal use and “used incredibly poor judgment,” according to the affidavit. She also told officers that “there is no excuse for her actions and she is very sorry.” Cox told investigators that she had compiled a budget to repay the missing funds, hoping to “fix the situation” with more gambling.

Eason hopes to recover the losses before the band’s Disney trip, slated for next year.

Sullins, pointing to three large binders compiling Breaux’s evidence, said he is “real pleased with the way that the investigation went,” and believes that all entities involved fully cooperated.

He said Cox was arrested at her home and taken into custody without incident. Breaux added that some of his subpoena requests are still pending with the Hardin County District Attorney’s office and additional charges may still be filed.

Chief Sullins announced that Cox’s bond was set at $250,000 before she was transported to the Hardin County Jail. She was released on bond Dec. 5.

The Louisiana State Police cooperated with the investigation.

Donations can be made to the Mighty Raiders band booster at the band office, or mailed to P.O Box 8161 in Lumberton.