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Wed Oct 12, 2016 21:29

American Legion Auxiliary treasurer signs embezzling plea agreement

The former treasurer for Florida's American Legion Auxiliary, Robin Briere, embezzled money that was supposed to help veterans, but was used instead to buy her jewelry, furniture from IKEA and tickets to a Pink concert, according to a federal indictment.

Briere, of Clermont, has now signed a guilty plea agreement, for one count of embezzling more than $600,000 from the not-for-profit ALA. The agreement hasn't been formally accepted by the court yet.

Briere was a long-time paid employee of the Auxiliary's office on Lee Road, which is a women's support group for the larger American Legion organization. She started work for the group in 1995, and became the secretary/treasurer in 2004.

The indictment only goes back seven years to 2007, because that is the statute limitation. Briere's embezzling was discovered in 2014. She was indicted June 30 this year, and recently signed the plea agreement.
"The majority of the thefts occurred by Briere writing checks to herself," according to the indictment and information attached to the plea agreement. "To cover up what she had done, Briere would falsify the books and records of ALA by entering the names of ALA payees into ALA's QuickBooks computer program as being the recipients of the checks, [however] the checks had actually been written to her. Briere would then endorse and deposit the checks into her personal bank account."
Clermont American Legion hall ravaged by fire demolished
Clermont American Legion hall ravaged by fire demolished

Mary "Dubbie" Buckler, national secretary for the American Legion Auxilliary, said the state and local affiliates of the organization are completely independent.

Buckler said the national organization is "extremely dismayed" that a person in Briere's shoes was able to conduct such fraud undetected for such a long period. Briere retired voluntarily in 2014.

"I have been alarmed since my arrival here at the number of entities that have the same person serving as secretary and as treasurer. It's a long-standing practice in Florida that the secretary and treasurer at the same person," Buckler said.

Peggy Hearlson, head of the group's finance committee, said in a phone interview Friday that she is not stepping down from her post, and that she had been involved in discovering the fraud.

Briere is scheduled to make an appearance and plea at a hearing in Orlando federal court at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

Most of the checks Briere wrote, according to the charges, were covered up with notes saying they'd been paid to the ALA's national office when they were actually deposited in her personal account. Most of the proceeds were simply used to pay off her personal credit card accounts, the information said.

Other false notes about the checks said payments were made to University of Central Florida, Office Depot, Children's Miracle Network or VA Medical Center.

Efforts to reach the Florida ALA president, Kelli Beecraft, were not successful Friday. Someone answered her private phone number but hung up immediately. A second call went to voicemail.

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