The man acting as treasurer of two local wrestling clubs is accused of stealing a total of $64,827 since 2017.
Steven D. Johnson, 44, made his initial appearance on two counts of felony theft Monday afternoon in Circuit Court.
Board members of the two clubs said the monetary loss — a substantial amount that keeps the clubs operating — will hurt them, but it won’t shut them down. Included in that is the Pat Weede Memorial Wrestling Tournament in December.
“The tournament will still go on, but as of Aug. 23, we were at $1,400 in the negative,” said Lico Sifuentes, president of the Gillette Wrestling Club.
The tournament draws top wrestlers from the region. A good portion of the tournament is paid for by a Campbell County Public Recreation District grant of $12,000, which was untouched. But other aspects of the tournament come from local donations. Sifuentes said some local donors have duplicated or even increased their contribution after learning of the plight of the two groups.
Johnson became treasurer of the Gillette Wrestling Club in October 2017 and of the Camel Kids Wrestling Club in June 2018. He was part of the latter club organization for almost 13 years and had been on the board for most of that time, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in the case.
In late August, the Camel Kids Wrestling Club had gathered evidence about Johnson’s alleged use of the club’s debit card for personal use, many of them made on Amazon and at Walmart but not for club purposes. The board confronted Johnson about them and he allegedly admitted to spending the club’s money for his personal use, according to the affidavit.
He agreed to pay the $11,000 that the club thought at the time that was missing. But board members decided to report the embezzlement to police instead after learning that he also was allegedly embezzling from the Gillette Wrestling Club, according to the affidavit.
The Gillette Wrestling Club discovered Aug. 31 that its account at Wells Fargo was closed because it was overdrawn. Board members also learned he’d drained a different account at Campco Federal Credit Union and had opened a new account at Pinnacle Bank with a $4,000 donation to the account and it is in arrears, according to the affidavit.
Lico Sifuentes, president of the Gillette Wrestling Club, said it was shocked to find the account empty at Wells Fargo.
“(Board member) Denise (Igo) was in tears and I was almost in tears,” he said. “I don’t know how somebody could do this.”
Johnson would come to board meetings with information about the accounts, but “we never made him prove anything” — something in hindsight he said every board should do. The bills were paid, so they had no reason to believe that the money wasn’t where he said it would be, Sifuentes said.
He now believes that all nonprofit clubs should ask to see the actual bank statements, that each should demand that two people from the club be listed on banking accounts and that banks shouldn’t be allowed to open a nonprofit account without at least two people from the club signing off on it.
The Gillette Wrestling Club said that it has made changes to its organization to ensure this doesn’t happen again, it said in a letter.
The group hosts the annual Pat Weede Memorial Wrestling Tournament, offers local scholarships for wrestlers from both Campbell County and Thunder Basin high schools, and covers travel expenses for local wrestlers competing at the national level.
The money that Johnson is accused of taking came from donations and fundraisers, not the Campbell County Public Recreation District Rec Mill grant, which is still intact, the club said in a letter.
“We are saddened by this deceit,” the club said. “However, we are going to move forward to get to the bottom of the financial issues, in addition to making the needed preparations for a successful Pat Weede Memorial Tournament in December 2019.
“Gillette Wrestling and Camel Kids have been helping wrestlers in this community for many years. And, with the help of the multitude of wonderful people surrounding us, the good work of these organizations will continue for the youth of our community,” the board said.
Mike Johnson, Camel Kids chairman, said in a letter that to discover the money missing “was particularly shocking” because it was allegedly taken “by a person within both the organizations who was in a position of great trust. It is this that hurts the most.”
“Despite this huge setback, we will not allow any criminal act to defeat our spirit or the continuation of either Camel Kids or the great work of Gillette Wrestling,” wrote Johnson, who is not related to Steven.
The Camel Kids Club believes that the thefts started about one week after Johnson was elected treasurer. A board member was alerted to problems in May when a Casper hotel called to report that it hadn’t received payment for rooms that were reserved for an upcoming event. Johnson said he would take care of it. But it still hadn’t been paid a few days later when the board member got a second call from the hotel, according to the affidavit.
She began to investigate and found some fraudulent charges, which totaled $11,170 on the club’s debit card in August.
But as the club continued to investigate, it found more money missing, according to the affidavit. The money generated from two raffles and registration fees also came up short. The total deposited should have been at a minimum $63,180, but only $47,000 had been deposited, a difference the club attributed to cash payments.
Between the debit card payments and the short deposits, the club figured it lost $26,650.
For the Gillette Wrestling Club, the board found $30,167 worth of fraudulent withdrawals from two bank accounts, which Sifuentes said were spent on a variety of things from contact lenses to city utility bills to Amazon orders to hotel rooms at tournaments.
It also lost the $4,000 deposit at Pinnacle plus was at least $1,937 in the red on that account. The group found another $2,073 that hadn’t been deposited from a recent fundraising event.
While the missing money may have come as a shock to the two groups, other nonprofit organizations have faced similar problems in the past in Campbell County and elsewhere.
Hockey and Babe Ruth baseball programs in Gillette had similar experiences earlier in this decade. Other programs in other cities in Wyoming also have found money missing.
The two Gillette wrestling clubs vowed to continue to operate even though it may take more donations to make that happen.
“We teach these kids that sometimes they may be down, but never out, and the same is true for our entire program,” Johnson wrote.
A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 7 in Circuit Court to determine if there is enough evidence to bind Johnson over to stand trial in District Court.
The maximum penalty on each count of theft is 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.