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Haas charged with stealing nearly $6,000 from Massena Little League

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MASSENA - A former volunteer treasurer for Massena Little League, Inc. has been charged with grand larceny after allegedly stealing nearly $6,000 from the community’s youth baseball organization.

Massena-based state police charged Julie A. Haas, 43, of 7 Brothers Road Wednesday afternoon with a felony count of third-degree grand larceny.

According to court documents, , Haas allegedly stole $5,973.25 from the league from March 4, 2008 through October 2010, while she was volunteering as its treasurer.

In his statement to police, J. Eric Firnstein, who followed Haas as league treasurer ,said he became suspicious of Haas when he began reviewing the league’s financial documents from her tenure.

When he took over league treasurer, Mr. Firnstein said the league’s account had a balance of $3.26.

“I reconciled the cash on a monthly basis and as the year progressed we had an approximate $16,000 balance. We took in almost $40,000 the first year and close to that the second year. We spent about $67,000 on equipment, uniforms, scoreboards and concession,” he said. “We operated under the same number of sponsors and participating children as they had in the past.”

At that point, after this past season was completed, Mr. Firnstein said he began reviewing financial documents from Haas’ tenure as treasurer.

“I began to review the old bank records and ledgers. It became very apparent that there were many questionable transactions that did not have any obvious association with the operation of the Massena Little League,” he said.

Detailing those transactions, Mr. Firnstein continued, “There were ATM withdrawals, one on Christmas Eve, one at a Bowling Alley in January and a host of other non-seasonal transactions. The other items that I saw were all the payments to the Chase Credit Card that was in Sue Kirkey’s name. No records or explanation was ever provided as it related to Massena Little League. The other questionable transactions included numerous cash transfers to Julie’s personal savings account.”

Court documents indicated Ms. Kirkey is Haas’ sister. In her statement to police, Ms. Kirkey said she gave Haas permission to open the account in her name.

“About four or five years ago my sister, Julie Haas, contacted me and asked me if I would open up a credit card to pay off one for Massena Little League. At this time Julie was in the hospital, but I would have helped her our anyhow.”

Mr. Kirkey said she then gave her sister the information she needed to open up the account, as Haas told her she was being pestered to pay off the account.

“I never heard or checked on anything with Massena Little League until about a month ago when I was talking with Julie about other personal accounts and she mentioned, ‘Don’t forget about the Massena Little League account.’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, is it paid off?’ and Julie said, ‘It is under $1,000 and would be paid off by June.’”

Ms. Kirkey said she has never seen any statements connected to the account and assumed her sister was making the payments.

“The only thing I can say about this account is Julie did have my permission to open it in my name.”

Upon taking office, Mr. Firnstein said he, as well as the league’s new president, Adrian Taraska, issued several requests to Haas and the league’s former president (Herb Currier) for information or an explanation of those expenses.

“Ms. Haas nor Mr. Currier have ever provided any details related to the ATM withdrawals, cash transfers or the payments to the Chase account despite our numerous requests when we took office,” he said in his statement. “It became apparent to us (the little league board) that there was a theft of funds.”

While Mr. Firnstein said he was suspicious of illegal activity from the time he took office, he and the other new officers tried to give Haas the benefit of the doubt, but her lack of response to the board’s questions and a clear discrepancy in financial numbers left the board with no choice but to pursue criminal charges against their former treasurer.

“We gave the previous officers the benefit of the doubt, but after reviewing the history and running little league for two years, we felt obligated for the kids, public integrity for the organization, and the generous sponsors to pursue criminal charges,” he said. “We are unpaid volunteers and we want to do the right thing for the organization and the community.”

Upon further review, Mr. Firnstein said his research actually shows “fraudulent transactions” dating as far back at September of 2005.

“I identified other transactions dating back to September 2005 that exceeded the $5,973.25 total, but was unable to include them in our total due to them occurring longer than five years of this date,” he said. “These transactions were direct transfers from the MLL cash account to Haas’ personal savings/checking account as well as other payments to the Chase credit card.”

Mr. Firnstein, who previosuly worked as a certified public accountant, said based on his past experiences and what he has seen he has no doubt that Haas has stolen thousands of dollars from the league.

“I would never wrongly accuse someone if I felt it wasn’t warranted. Based on my past experience, I have no doubt that Ms. Haas stole money from Massena Little League and she needs to be held accountable.”

Haas pleaded not guilty to the grand larceny count during a late Wednesday afternoon appearance before Massena Town Justice Gerald P. Sharlow. She was represented by attorney Daniel S. Pease.

The defense attorney waived her right to a preliminary hearing, sending the case up to superior court for possible presentment to a grand jury. As for the credit in Sue Kirkey’s name, Ms. Kirkey is Haas’ sister and in her statement to police, she gave Haas permission to open the account in her name.

“About four or five years ago my sister, Julie Haas contacted me and asked me if I would open up a credit card to pay off one for Massena Little League. At this time Julie was in the hospital, but I would have helped her our anyhow.”

Mr. Kirkey said she then gave her sister the information she needed to open up the account, as Haas told her she was being pestered to pay off “the account.”

“I never heard or checked on anything with Massena Little League until about a month ago when I was talking with Julie about other personal accounts and she mentioned ‘don’t forget about the Massena Little League account.’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, is it paid off?’ and Julie said, ‘It is under $1,000 and would be paid off by June.”

Ms. Kirkey said she has never seen any statements connected to the account and assumed her sister was making the payments.

“The only thing I can say about this account is Julie did have my permission to open it in my name.”

Judge Sharlow released Haas on her own recognizance.

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