The Newton Chamber of Commerce employee arrested this week in connection with thefts linked to the “Newton Bucks” program has now been charged with forgery and theft.
Kayla Tillery, 43, was charged with forging a $5,500 check in the name of the Newton Chamber of Commerce and theft from the Chamber’s “Newton Bucks” program of more than $25,000, Harvey County David Yoder said Wednesday. Her bond has been set at $50,000.
Yoder said Tillery remains in custody at the Harvey County Detention Center. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for March 28.
Kansas Department of Corrections records show that Tillery was released from prison in 2009 following convictions for crimes in Pawnee, Barton and Reno counties that included forgery, theft and identity theft.
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Like many chambers across the state, the “Newton Bucks” program encourages residents to shop locally. The “bucks”– gift certificates purchased from the chamber – can be used just like cash. In her position at the chamber, Tillery was authorized to print the bucks, Yoder said.
“The Newton Bucks program has been a longtime valued service of the Newton Chamber,” said Jim Schwarzenberger, executive director of the Newton Chamber, reading from a statement during a media conference Wednesday. “It has been very popular, particularly during the holiday season.
“Knowing how much this program has benefited Newton and how well liked it is makes this discovery of wrongdoing, I am sure, a great concern for our membership. It is a very tough pill for me to swallow personally, given that it happened on my watch.”
Schwarzenberger said chamber officials became suspicious in January and began an internal investigation.
“We are sad this has happened and have already implemented procedures to decrease the likelihood that this will ever happen again,” Schwarzenberger said. He did not take any questions.
Yoder said Wednesday the case is still ongoing and additional charges may be filed. He said there are currently no other suspects in the case and no other members of the Newton Chamber of Commerce are suspected of any complicity in the case.
Tillery was hired in November 2012 and terminated Feb. 28. In the chamber’s January newsletter, it said Tillery “has already been hard at work refining the Chamber’s operational systems including incorporating a more streamlined process for our Newton Bucks program.”
The mood Wednesday on Newton’s Main Street was somber.
“It is a shock,” said Vern Preheim, manager of Book Reviews, a used-book store. “The Chamber of Commerce is respected and does a lot of good things for businesses in the community.”