The former leader of the Arts Council of Lebanon will avoid jail for embezzling from the organization, provided she makes full restitution in 60 days and gets treatment for drugs or alcohol and mental problems, according to the judge handling the case.
On Tuesday, Judge Donald Oda II accepted the guilty plea of Rochelle Collins, 47, and granted her intervention in lieu of conviction for theft of $6,865 from the group’s account while serving as the chief executive officer from March 2018 to February 2019.
During the hearing, Oda questioned Donna Pennock, a representative of the organization, about whether it was still active.
“I want to make sure I have a clear idea of where that money is going to go,” Oda said.
Pennock indicated the group’s bank account was frozen, while the case was pending.
On Tuesday, the group’s website was down and the listed contact number was still Collins’ cell phone number.
The arts council no longer has offices in downtown Lebanon, and no one from the council could be reached to comment afterward.
Collins’ lawyer, Ed Perry, said the group was losing members and staff and “it sounds like it is still defunct.”
“It’s my understanding this council was dying on the vine,” Perry said.
Oda also issued a protective order barring Collins from contact with members of the group affected by the case, except Lebanon Mayor Amy Brewer.
The judge indicated he generally declined issuing protective orders for public officials, such as Brewer, unless they were directly threatened.
Oda explained to Collins that she faced up to 12 months in prison and a $2,500 fine, if ultimately convicted. There is a presumption against prison and none mandatory with such convictions.
However, Oda said he would dismiss the case if Collins came up with the money — allegedly drawn by her using the organization’s debit card — and entered the the treatment ordered in the next two months.
If unable to make restitution, Oda said Collins faced up to 60 days in jail.
“We will have a very difficult and unpleasant conversation ahead of us,” Oda said.
Collins was indicted in July on a felony theft charge.
The amount taken included at least $5,704 in ATM withdrawals and $1,161 in debit card purchases spent at businesses including UDF, Kroger and Whole Foods, Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said at the time.
Collins allegedly made the withdrawals after the treasurer resigned and she was “sole custodian” of the group’s business records, Fornshell added.
Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.