LIMA — The former executive director of the Crossroads Crisis Center left an Allen County courtroom in handcuffs Tuesday morning after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of theft.
Emily Wrencher, 66, will serve 10 days in jail — 170 days were conditionally suspended — and was also ordered to make restitution in the amount of $9,743.74 to the non-profit agency to replenish funds prosecutors said she stole over a period of more than two years.
During the two-hour restitution hearing that followed Wrencher’s plea, attorneys called witnesses to testify to the amount stolen by Wrencher through the unauthorized use of a credit card issued by the agency to its former director from January 2015 through early April 2017.
Wrencher was terminated from her position with the crisis center in April 2017 following allegations of policy violations. She was indicted by a grand jury on a fourth-degree felony charge of theft but agreed to plead guilty to the reduced charge and to abide by the court’s decision on the amount of restitution owed.
Among those taking the witness stand were retired Lima Police Department officer Paula Strickler, who headed up the criminal case against Wrencher, and current Crossroads Executive Director Christel Keller, who said Wrencher purchased gas, groceries, motel rooms and other unauthorized items using the non-profit agency’s credit card.
Wrencher, testifying on her own behalf during the restitution portion of Tuesday’s hearing, admitted violating agency policy by making personal purchases using a Crossroads’ credit card. But Wrencher defended her actions by saying she routinely reimbursed the crisis center by transferring funds to the center from her private bank account prior to the next billing cycle.
Defiant and largely unapologetic throughout Tuesday’s hearing, Wrencher admitted to making “erroneous decisions” that constituted a technical violation of the law. But the former director denied the bulk of the accusations put forward by the state.
“I did not steal money from Crossroads,” Wrencher said from the witness stand.
But Allen County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Randall Basinger wasn’t having any part of the woman’s explanation.
“You pleaded guilty earlier today to theft, and now you’re sitting here saying that you didn’t steal from Crossroads?” Basinger asked incredulously.
Basinger said Wrencher violated the public trust when she stole funds from Crossroads, calling her crime “an appalling abuse that needs an appropriate sanction.”
“I made a few misjudgments,” Wrencher replied. Her attorney, Robert Gryzbowski, said the amount of restitution owed by his client to the crisis center should’ve been no greater than $1,077.
Judge Jeffrey Reed said the theft had a “great impact on the victim in this case, an impact that goes beyond finances.” He also took exception to Wrencher’s characterization of the events as a “misfortunate understanding.”
“This is more than a ‘misfortunate understanding.’ This was an admitted abuse, a theft, from a non-profit agency entrusted with aiding victims of domestic violence,” Reed said.
Prior to being sentenced, Wrencher said, “I deeply regret any erroneous decisions made by me. It was never my intent to harm the agency.”
Keller read a victim impact statement to the court in which she said the crisis center suffered great economic and public harm as a result of Wrencher’s actions.
“Emily’s actions resulted in not only the agency not being able to provide adequate services to survivors in the community and a loss of trust in the community, but it also resulted in the agency having lost trust with the State of Ohio,” Keller said. “That loss of trust with the Attorney General’s office resulted in the agency’s loss of full funding and the inability to provide as many services to the survivors of domestic violence in the Lima community as the agency has done historically.”
More than two years after the thefts first came to light, Keller said the crisis center “still cannot function as a successful non-profit due to the acts of Emily Wrencher.”
Keller said in a prepared statement that Crossroads’ staff and board “hope to continue to be a positive advocate and continue to shine light upon the darkness that domestic violence brings to families in our community.”
Reed imposed a sentence that also included a $1,000 fine and court costs and an order that Wrencher have no future contact with the crisis center in addition to the full amount of restitution sought by the crisis center.