RICHMOND, Texas – The former treasurer of a nonprofit youth hockey league in Fort Bend County has been charged with embezzling more than $200,000 from the league’s accounts.
Michele Bernier, 51, made her first court appearance Wednesday morning and is being held in the Fort Bend County jail on a $224,000 bond
Beginning in 2013, Bernier was the treasurer of the Interscholastic Hockey League. Her husband served as league president for some of that time.
The league is a volunteer organization that provides framework and facilities for high school players through dues and donations. It has an annual budget of about $400,000.
For five years, investigators say Bernier withdrew cash from the league accounts that eventually totaled $223,327.
“She stated the family was dealing with some financial hardships and she started taking money.” Sheriff Troy Nehls said. “Once you start taking money like that and getting away with it over a certain amount of time, you probably start getting pretty comfortable with it.”
The league’s board discovered the money was missing about two months ago. Officials say Bernier offered to pay back less than half of it, about $45,000.
League Vice President Shawn Feltus says the board turned down the offer.
“That deal was predicated on a nondisclosure agreement, and at the board, we just felt we had an obligation to the parents and families that were part of the league that we couldn't agree to that.”
Feltus says the coming season won’t be affected by the losses, which the league expects to recover through insurance.
He says new safeguards have been put in place to prevent thefts in the future.
“We’ve established a treasury committee as opposed to just one person, now so there are more people with eyes on the numbers," he said. “We also have two people on the board that have view-only access to the board so they can look at it whenever they want.
Bernier is charged with felony theft, a first-degree felony that carries a punishment range of up to 99 years in prison.
And because she’s a Canadian citizen, she could be considered a flight risk, according to investigators. She’ll have to surrender her passport if and when she bonds out of jail.