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Byrum gets deferred sentence

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

The former director of Little Sprouts Childcare Ministry agreed to pay back more than $60,000 to Evangelical United Methodist Church for a deferred sentence, after bank records show she used the church’s account for personal use.

Joetta M. Byrum pleaded guilty to a Level 5 charge of corrupt business influence and entered an agreement where she will pay at least $500 toward the $65,373 she agreed to pay back after police caught her stealing money from church accounts.

If Byrum fails to pay the $500 each month or commits a crime, the court will proceed with sentencing.

Between February 2016 to December 2017, Byrum used the church’s account to buy items off Amazon, Target, DaVinci Teeth Whitening, 1-800-Contacts and Spa Cosmetics and other retailers.

A church official noticed the charges and asked Byrum if she knew about any unauthorized debit charges, and she denied knowledge of the charges, according to police reports.

The officials reportedly scheduled a meeting with Byrum on Dec. 18, 2017, according to Hillman’s report. Prior to the meeting, officials reportedly requested bank records dating back to June of 2016, during which charges to Amazon, Target, DaVinci Teeth Whitening, 1-800-Contacts and Spa Cosmetics were noticed.

During their meeting with Byrum, church officials reportedly stated Byrum initially denied using the church debit card for personal expenses, according to the report.

But later in the conversation, Byrum allegedly admitted a purchase made at Trophy Center Plus was personal in nature.

Byrum’s employment was terminated following the meeting. She was reportedly told to return any receipts she had for purchases charged to the church account by Dec. 20, 2017.

Hillman wrote he was told by church officials that Byrum presented a list of debit charges from Amazon which reportedly detailed personal expenses.

“All three church leaders told me Joetta was very apologetic, crying and apologizing for using the church credit card inappropriately. She asked them to ‘show mercy in our actions going forward,’” Hillman wrote.

Byrum was also in charge of receiving weekly tuition payments for the children’s ministry and depositing the money into the church bank account, Hillman wrote.

After officials reviewed financial records from 2016, they reportedly discovered a difference of more than $4,000.

In 2017, that difference was reportedly more than $29,000, according to the police report.

After speaking with church officials, Hillman delivered all documentation to HPD Detective Ty Whitacre for further investigation.

Whitacre wrote in a supplemental report that a review of tuition deposits into the church’s account showed a shortage of $3,839.07 from Feb. 22, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2016, all of which was reportedly collected by Byrum.

From Jan. 1, 2017 to Dec. 15, 2017, documents reportedly found a shortage of $40,750.89.

Whitacre added there were five ATM cash withdrawals made from the account, but church personnel reportedly said there is no valid reason for an employee to do so while making authorized purchases.

Whitacre secured receipts for most of Byrum’s personal purchases from the church account, which he tallied as follows:

$533.48 from Walmart $682.41 from Amazon $1,193.84 in debit card transactions, including to Spa Cosmetics, Orscheln Farm and Home, 1-800-Contacts, Inc., Essential Oils, Target, DaVinci Teeth Whitening, Michaels, Scholastic Book Clubs and Trophy Center Plus.

Whitacre indicated the total of Byrum’s personal purchases, cash withdrawals and tuition differences is $63,363.85.

Text messages were provided to Whitacre by church officials, which reportedly showed Byrum asking if charges could be dropped due to her admitting guilt and agreeing to repay the money.

The theft charges Byrum was facing were dropped.