American Red Cross of Gainesville will have $200,000 less to aid victims after discovering in June a former local employee may have been stealing from the agency.
After a four-month internal investigation, Red Cross officials approached the Gainesville Police Department. On Wednesday, police filed grand theft and scheme to defraud charges against Casey Marie Schmelz, 29.
Schmelz worked at the American Red Cross, 1425 NW 6th St., for more than five years. She was involved with approximately 60 cases of fraudulent activity, dating to 2011, according to police. GPD spokesman Ben Tobias said an anonymous tip was made to the American Red Cross hotline to report possible fraud.
The missing funds were confirmed during a routine audit in the agency.
“She was doing it in such a way that case files were generated but it was something that required an audit to really figure out,” Tobias said.
How does one person get away with taking more than $200,000?
A debit card.
One way the American Red Cross administers disaster relief to victims is by issuing debit cards with certain cash amounts based on their emergency, all of which are documented in case files. The debit cards are intended to be used to purchase food, clothing and other basic necessities.
“There wasn’t a need to realize the money was missing because it had been documented as going to particular cases,” Tobias said, “but when they went back and looked at those cases, they realized either a disaster had not happened or the amount that should have been loaded on that debit card was different.”
Police say Schmelz discovered another employee’s username and password that had authorization to add funds to the relief debit cards. Schmelz would log into the system, load funds onto debit cards, and then withdraw cash from local ATMs.
Surveillance video, transaction history and personal statements revealed Schmelz used the funds.
The American Red Cross did not agree to an interview but did release a statement saying:
“We are aware that charges have been filed by the Gainesville Police Department against a former employee of the North Central Florida chapter of the American Red Cross. The information in this matter was developed through a detailed examination of our disaster services operation. That information was turned over to law enforcement officials in Gainesville, Florida and they began an investigation into the matter. The Red Cross will cooperate fully with their investigation and while it is in progress we are unable to comment on the matter. Any further questions about this matter should be directed to the Gainesville Police Department.”
GPD filed a sworn complaint affidavit was filed Wednesday with the state attorney’s office, which will determine if formal charges will be filed in the case.
GPD detective Chris King said Schmelz’ co-workers were extremely disappointed by her actions.
“These people were like her family,” he said. “She was working for a company that is designed to help others. She lost sight of that mission with her criminal behavior.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Schmelz stole the money from the American Red Cross. She has not been convicted.