SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) - A Sarasota woman is charged with stealing around $85,000 from the Girl Scouts. Detectives say the suspect, who worked for the organization for 10 years, admitted to stealing the money.
Deputies started investigating in May because the CEO of Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida discovered more than $75,000 missing from the organization's account. Stephanie Person, member services coordinator, was "identified as a possible suspect since she handled troop funds and banking," investigators said.
The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office said Person, age 41, managed 500 different troops. She handled the money earned by the girls, including from cookie sales. Person's job was to disperse that money to troops throughout the Tampa Bay area. The money was supposed to be used for field trips and community service projects.
Person instead transferred money to herself by using an inactive troop's account, deputies said.
"Electronic evidence and surveillance photos from various banks throughout Sarasota County confirmed Person had withdrawn nearly $85,000 in troop funds," deputies said.
Person allegedly told detectives she started taking the money because of financial hardships. She did so for eight months, detectives said.
"When she realized how easy it was, she just kept doing it. She described it as like an addiction, she just kept doing it and couldn't stop," Lt. Joe Giasone with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office said. "She said she used it for living expenses and she was buying scratch-off lottery tickets, wasn't buying anything tangible."
The CEO OF Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida said the ordeal has blindsided her.
"I was extremely surprised at this. We had a 10-year, trusted former employee," Sue Stewart said. "As Girl Scouts, we're teaching our girls to be honest and fair, and it really is disappointing that we're upholding a mission and that this could occur."
Officials say there were safeguards in place, but Person was crafty. The organization hired new staff and implemented stricter controls to prevent this from happening again.
Stewart said individual troops were given back the money always meant to go to them. Meanwhile, Girl Scout employees are working with authorities to recover all the money that Person allegedly stole.
Person is charged with grand theft and scheme to defraud.