TRAVERSE CITY — Thousands of dollars in Keno proceeds disappeared from the VFW Cherryland Post 2780 in Traverse City, and officials blamed sloppy bookkeeping and easily accessible cash.
VFW officials said they’ve made efforts to assure every future penny is accounted for after an internal audit revealed the Post came up more than $26,000 short in Keno revenue between April and December 2010.
No criminal charges were filed because prosecutors said there isn’t enough evidence to pinpoint an individual suspect.
“There were a lot of people that handled the money,” said Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney. “A lot of times, I think in an organization like this there’s a lot of trust. That’s what’s so bad about embezzlement is it’s almost like stealing from family.”
In 2011, Richard Thibeau, now Post commander, turned over findings of the Keno machine audit to the Grand Traverse Sheriff’s Department. Deputies investigated but former Prosecutor Al Schneider declined to issue charges.
Thibeau asked for another review and Cooney agreed. The apparent theft warranted a second look, but again did not turn up enough evidence for charges, he said.
Sheriff’s department reports named a former Post quartermaster and a former assistant quartermaster as suspects. The quartermaster controlled the Post’s financial matters since 2005.
The quartermaster, Doug Jordan, denied stealing from the Post, but acknowledged money disappeared under his command, though not as much as Thibeau’s audit claims. He said he couldn’t specify how much cash disappeared.
The Keno machine was installed in 2010, and Jordan said his record-keeping was “haphazard.”
Thousands of dollars were stored in a sack in a safe located in the bar’s kitchen area. Jordan said he deposited Keno money to the VFW’s general bank account every two or three weeks.
That safe routinely wasn’t locked so bartenders could make change during their shifts, he said.
“The safe was open quite a bit. There were numerous people walking by where the safe was open,” Jordan said. “I guess my mistake originally was trusting.”
Jordan switched to an envelope system at the suggestion of a bartender, and bar staff submitted Keno revenue at the end of each shift to the quartermaster’s office mail slot. The envelopes included printed reports from the Keno machine, which Jordan told a detective he discarded because he “didn’t think he’d need them anymore.”
Jordan said he noticed a hole in his records shortly before he was removed from his position during the investigation, he said.
“But I didn’t know by how much because I didn’t keep, to be honest, I didn’t keep that good of records as I should’ve been,” he said.
He said Thibeau’s audit isn’t accurate because it didn’t account for occasional bank deposits that combined Keno and bar revenue.
“I never took a penny from that place,” he said. “I guess the thing that really disturbs me is the fact that I would take a penny from the veterans.”
Thibeau said the VFW is trying to recovering from the loss.
“As a nonprofit organization as we are, we don’t have that much money to start with, so that was a pretty big bite,” he said.