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Police: $75K bilked from organization

Sheila Kitchens

Sheila Kitchens

SNELLVILLE -- A former bookkeeper for a Snellville nonprofit was arrested Tuesday for embezzling about $75,000 from an organization that specializes in helping troubled families.

Sheila Kitchens, 50, of Lawrenceville, is charged with bilking Covenant Counseling and Family Resource Center, her former employer, of roughly 100 payments between January 2007 and October 2009, police said.

Kitchens is charged with 10 felony counts of theft by taking, but investigators will ask prosecutors to up those counts to about 100 when her case goes before a grand jury, Snellville police Det. Eric Washburn said.

Kitchens allegedly used a duplicate ledger to mask payments and fudged QuickBooks accounting software to make it appear that checks never arrived at the Snellville-based agency.

She'd been wanted by police since arrest warrants were issued last month, and was arrested when she came to police headquarters for questioning Tuesday morning, Washburn said.

Police don't anticipate that much of the money will be recovered.

"She said there's no money left," Washburn said. "She said she used the money for personal expenses, and that she was sorry about it."

Kitchens remains at the Gwinnett County Jail on $100,000 bond. Washburn said she has no relevant criminal history.

Police said Kitchens was hired by the counseling center in 2000. She was fired for work-performance issues in September, and an internal audit later uncovered the string of thefts, said the Rev. Jaye Peabody, the center's executive director.

"Coming in and looking at the books, we realized something was wrong," said Peabody, who was hired in October.

The center serves more than 500 individuals and families throughout metro Atlanta at its headquarters and satellite offices. Its staff specializes in bereavement counseling, psychotherapy, marital counseling, sexual and physical abuse therapy and support for parents of ADHD children, among other services.

Peabody said the center's annual operating budget of $175,000 relies heavily on church and business donations. She called the alleged thefts "crippling" enough that the agency's 501(c)3 status, which allows federal tax exemptions for nonprofits, was in jeopardy for a while.

"We're digging out of the hole," Peabody said. "We're almost there. We're financially sound now."