Crime & Courts

Two arrested in alleged theft of cheerleading funds

Valley Center police expect to present evidence to prosecutors next week that a Valley Center woman and her boyfriend stole thousands of dollars from a youth cheerleading squad.

Police Chief Mark Hephner said his department, as of Thursday, had identified 66 people who allegedly entrusted money to the squad’s director, Tabitha M. Bates, to buy uniforms, shoes and other supplies for the cheer squad but never received their items. Originally, after reports of the possible theft began emerging in October, police estimated the loss at about $24,000, but Hephner said Thursday that closer to $8,000 to $16,000 is missing.

On Wednesday, Bates and her boyfriend, Russell D. Hartlein, were booked into Sedgwick County Jail on suspicion of felony theft, jail records show. Hephner said the pair was arrested late Wednesday afternoon at the Valley Center police station after agreeing to be interviewed about the theft allegations. They since have been released on bond.

Hephner would not talk about Hartlein’s role in the alleged thefts but did say that the department had established “probable cause” to arrest Hartlein and Bates. Neither could be reached for comment Thursday evening.

The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office will determine whether criminal charges will be filed.

The cheerleading squad is a privately run organization in Valley Center. It has no affiliation with the Valley Center school district or the Valley Center Recreation Commission, said Cory Gibson, superintendent of schools.

Hephner said the missing money was kept in Bates’ personal bank account. He said police were awaiting access to her banking records Thursday to continue their investigation.

“The bottom line is the person who was supposed to do that (purchase equipment) did not deliver on the goods,” Hephner said.

None of the cash has been recovered, he said.

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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