Women's shelter closes after workers use funds for Disney trip, buying sprees, feds say

  • In US
  • 2022-09-29 16:03:50Z
  • By Kansas City Star

The bookkeeper and executive director of a now-closed women's shelter in Ohio stole tens of thousands of dollars from the non-profit and spent it on hundreds of personal purchases, feds say.

Jaime Cardinal, 46, of Washington Court House was sentenced Sept. 28 to 12 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release and was ordered to repay $25,000 in stolen funds after pleading guilty in 2021 to "two counts related to stealing funds from the federally funded shelter," according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio.

Cardinal began volunteering for My Sister's House - a shelter for women who were victims of domestic violence and abuse - in 2012, according to court documents. She became bookkeeper for the shelter in 2015.

Around the same time, Crystal Chrisman became the executive director of the shelter, the only one of its kind in the city, an indictment filed June 17, 2020, says.

The women began misusing debit cards connected to the women's shelter's bank accounts in January 2014 and continued to do so almost daily until October 2016, prosecutors said in sentencing documents filed Sept. 21. They made some personal purchases when few - if any - victims lived at the shelter, the indictment says.

Chrisman died on November 17, 2021, at 54 years old due to sudden cardiac arrest, according to court documents and her obituary. The court dismissed the case against her.

In a memorandum to the court, attorneys said Cardinal has "serious health and medical issues" and has been diagnosed with depression. She said Chrisman pressured her to become involved in the scheme, "and on top of that was having significant financial hardships supporting everyone. She felt that she could 'fix' the issues at home and at work," attorneys said in the memorandum.

"She is extraordinarily remorseful," attorneys said. "Mrs. Cardinal takes full responsibility for actions."

The pair stole $50,000 from the federally-funded shelter, court documents say. They spent the money at restaurants, grocery stores, craft stores, Bath and Body Works, clothing stores, bowling alleys, a car repair shop and gas stations, according to the indictment. They used the shelter's funding on an online auction, purchasing a robotic vacuum, fitness trackers and a patio set, prosecutors said.

Chrisman spent almost $3,000 on handbags, prosecutors said.

Cardinal spent about $1,200 on makeup, lotion and other Avon products as well as $3,100 in the Apple iTunes store, including in-app purchases in a candy-themed game called Gummy Drop!, per the indictment.

The pair also stole about $3,000 of the shelter's funding for a trip with their daughters to Disney World and Universal Studios Florida, prosecutors said. They bought plane tickets, paid for their rental car and purchased souvenirs, alcohol, clothing, candy and restaurant meals during the trip, court documents say.

Because of these stolen funds, the women's shelter fell behind on its payroll and taxes, prosecutors said. The shelter put all employees on administrative leave in November 2016, the release said, and never reopened.

Cardinal and Chrisman entered into a plea agreement, according to court documents filed on July 2, 2021.

Prosecutors said that Cardinal and Chrisman treated the shelter's "financial accounts like their personal piggybank," saying many of their purchases had a "frivolous nature," according to sentencing documents.

Washington Court House is about 40 miles southwest of Columbus.

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