UPDATE: Thousands of dollars in cookie proceeds allegedly stolen from Columbia County Girl Scouts
COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. -
UPDATE: Following FOX54's February 13 report, Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia issued the following statement:
"After conducting a thorough investigation of the original allegations, the return of misappropriated funds has been addressed privately. The volunteers responsible for the management of troop funds have been released of their positions in accordance with Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia's policies outlined in the volunteer handbook. For the sake of the Girl Scouts in the troop, we will not release further details of the misappropriation of funds.
Our focus has always been and will always be on the wellbeing of the Girl Scouts we serve. We are committed to imparting the values as outlined by the Girl Scout Promise and Law which state, "On my honor, I will try: to serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout Law. I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout."
UPDATE: On January 29, FOX54 learned the Columbia County Sheriff's Office had received a report of money missing from an account for the local Girl Scouts organization. It was estimated up to $5,000 in cookie sales had not been properly deposited.
Amber Wilson, a troop leader at the time, spoke with FOX54. "Our girls are a volunteer troop," she says, "They take that money and put it back into the community. They buy socks for the homeless, they do things for a senior home."
Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia released the following statement following the FOX54 report, saying the troop was working with law enforcement to resolve the issue.
Several news stories were recently published alleging that money was stolen from Augusta-area Girl Scout troops. Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia staff is aware of the allegations and is working with local authorities to resolve the situation.
While council staff were aware of the situation, they were not aware of the news articles until after they were published. Therefore, we would like to correct a major discrepancy in the stories. The articles allege that thousands of dollars in cookie proceeds are missing. However, internal investigations indicate that the account shortage is much lower than initially reported, and council staff is working diligently to help recover missing funds. While we cannot discuss further details of this matter because it is a legal one, we are committed to imparting the values of honesty and wise use of resources to all our girl and adult members, as indicated by the Girl Scout Promise and Law.
Each year our local Girl Scout Cookie Program achieves its annual goal of teaching girls valuable business skills that they will use throughout their lives, including working as a team, money management, goal-setting, business ethics, customer service and marketing. We appreciate the continued support of the community who we have worked with to ensure the success of the Girl Scout Cookie Program. We know that success is directly tied to community members who appreciate the cookie program as the one that provides girls with their first economic and business literacy lessons.
Wilson says, and notes from a parent meeting seem to affirm, the organization was actually asking investigators to close the case and to allow Girl Scout leaders to handle the matter internally.
Wilson says there's a reason for that.
"I absolutely feel like they're trying to cover it up. I was told it's not good press, and it's cookie season."
Cookie season, says Wilson, is a time for Girl Scouts to learn the basics of business and of hard work and reward. Her overview of the checking account showed that work had resulted in about $4,000 of profits last year, less than she expected it to be.
"I confronted the previous troop leader," says Wilson, "and was able to recover thousands of dollars of the girls' money."
Her questioning didn't stop there or with the $5,000 estimate the Columbia County Sheriff's Office had previously been told. Wilson says she and others took a closer look at 2022 bank statements. "In all, it was $9,000 never deposited into the girls' account," Wilson alleges.
Dozens of parents were told Columbia County investigators were no longer responsible for the case and were wondering how their daughters' fundraising efforts would be made whole. In a virtual meeting held days after the initial FOX54 report, Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia informed parents of a payment plan arranged with the alleged mishandler of the cookie funds.
Wilson tells FOX54 parents were displeased with that solution. After all, she said, Augusta-area Girl Scout troops made over $4 million on cookies last year, and Wilson herself had been able to recover nearly half of the allegedly embezzled funds already.
Upon making her concerns known, Wilson was asked to meet with other leaders of the organization on February 13. It was in that meeting she says she was informed she was no longer allowed to be a troop leader, a volunteer position.
Wilson says she will continue to be a scout mom. She says no matter the time of year, she expects those leading Augusta's children to be held to a standard of accountability.
"Girl Scouts was not founded to sell cookies. It was founded for so much more," she says. "We can be Girl Scouts without cookies. We will continue to be Girl Scouts and my little girl will be a Girl Scout as well. I just won't be the troop leader.
FOX54 has asked Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia for comment on this story.
FOX54 also asked CCSO for any comment and learned this is actually still an active investigation, despite GSHG's statement to parents that their promissory note and civil agreement has rendered the case closed.
Columbia County Sheriff's Office is investigating a claim that up to $5000 in Girl Scout cookie proceeds has been stolen from local troops. That's according to an incident report provided by the Sheriff's Office.
According to the incident report, a representative of Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia says she took over management of the organization's bank account and found some discrepancies in records from 2023, including deposits that were allegedly never made.
When she confronted the person previously in charge of the bank account, she says she received a portion of the missing funds, but not enough to cover the shortages calculated in the bank records.
She told investigators she is still finding discrepancies in the records and estimates thousands of dollars may have been stolen.
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