Theft charge filed against former 3rd District Democrats treasurer

KPC NEWS Service

WARSAW — A charge of theft has been filed against the former 3rd District Democratic Party treasurer, Tyler Cooley, Markle, who is accused of embezzling more than $7,000 from the party.

Prosecutors in Kosciusko County filed the single Level 6 felony charge against Cooley, 33, on Friday.

That charge is punishable by between six months and 2 1/2 years in jail, if convicted. A judge also could order he make restitution back to the party.

According to court documents, former 3rd District chairwoman Carmen Darland, who lives outside Albion, reported to the Noble County Sheriff’s Department she discovered $5,677 had been stolen from the Democrats’ account at Old National Bank in Kosciusko County.

She told a deputy she had spoken with Cooley, who admitted to her he had taken money from party accounts, the documents state. An audit of the party’s accounts was completed, and a total of $7,042 reportedly was missing.

Cooley resigned as treasurer of the 3rd District Democrats in June 2016. The discrepancy was found during an audit by the party’s executive committee after his departure, according to a letter sent to party donors Jan. 30 by new 3rd District Chairwoman Madalyn Sade-Bartl, who is clerk-treasurer of Churubusco.

Sade-Bartl was appointed treasurer after Cooley and was part of the executive committee that discovered the alleged embezzlement.

Noble County Sheriff’s Department Detective Sgt. Joe Hutsell spoke to Cooley on July 14, during which time the former treasurer admitted he stole money between September 2015 and July 2016 and used it for his own personal use, according to charging documents.

A withdrawal of $5,677 was taken from the Democrats’ Old National Bank account; $700 was stolen from a party raffle; and $665 was taken from event revenue, according to court documents.

Cooley had three monetary court judgments ordered against him from August 2014 to April 2016, online court records said.

On Aug. 26, 2014, a court issued a judgment of $941.76 to Huntington County Federal Credit Union. At the end of divorce hearings in April 2015, Cooley was ordered to pay $2,600 to his spouse as part of the final dissolution order. A year later in April 2016, he was ordered to pay $4,741.77 to family law attorney Tandra S. Johnson, who represented him during his divorce proceedings.

Cooley also was unemployed for a period of about six months, and Sade-Bartl said she thinks he used the money to pay personal expenses during that time.

“As far as I know from what he’s indicated to myself and other members in the situation, it was paying bills and paying child support,” she said.

Cooley sent a check for $150 to the party last week to begin repayment, but Sade-Bartl said police advised her not to deposit that check.

In her letter to donors, Sade-Bartl wrote she anticipated the party would be fully reimbursed.

The charge comes about seven months after Noble County police spoke to Cooley about the incident.

Hutsell said he had submitted paperwork to the Kosciusko County prosecutor’s office in the summer, but that office was burdened with other cases at the time. Prosecutors didn’t get back with him until recently to finalize their information, he said.

“They had a lot going on in their office, and it just got shuffled around,” Hutsell said.

Since the incident, 3rd District Democrats have implemented new internal controls in an effort to prevent a bookkeeping scheme in the future.

Previously, both the party chair and treasurer were listed as authorized users on the bank accounts, but only the treasurer was receiving bank statements, Sade-Bartl said.

Now, both are getting monthly statements, and Sade-Bartl is forwarding those documents to other members of the party’s executive committee, she said.

Sade-Bartl added the 3rd District is researching whether it could get a bond to protect the party against another such loss in the future. Requiring a personal bond for the treasurer likely would be too costly, but party leaders are looking for alternatives, she said.

The loss of the $7,200 didn’t prevent 3rd District Democrats from making donations to candidates during the 2016 elections, although the party had less money available for contributions, including those to local office seekers.

Extra money probably wouldn’t have helped in statewide races considering how badly Democrats performed against Republicans in the general election. But additional money might have made a difference in local contests, Sade-Bartl said.

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