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Defendant had several alleged methods for embezzlement

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FARMINGTON — An area water users association is taking steps to implement new procedures after a former office manager is accused of embezzling about $150,000 from the organization across several years.

Aztec resident Cherileen Henry, 44, is accused of a second-degree felony count of embezzlement and a third-degree felony count of tampering with evidence, according to court records.

Henry allegedly embezzled about $150,300 from the Upper La Plata Water Users Association between January 2016 and December 2019, and destroyed documents tied to the embezzlement, according to Staff Accountant Maria Hathcock.

The defendant did not have legal representation on March 3.

Hathcock said the operation of the water association will not be impacted by the stolen funds and it will operate as a new office manager is trained and new procedures are put into place.

"Everyone who works here, and the board of directors, has learned a valuable lesson," Hathcock said. "We're trying to move on from it and trying to improve our processes."

The San Juan County Sheriff's Office handled the investigation.

A deputy was contacted by the system manager for the water association on Dec. 5 to investigate the possible embezzlement.

The deputy also met with Hathcock, who was hired to investigate inconsistencies in the association's finances, according to court documents.

Hathcock was hired in Oct. 21, to help the water association become compliant with its audit reports.

The affidavit states a full audit had not been performed as Henry did not provide a lot of the information requested.

There are several methods of embezzlement that Henry is accused of.

Hathcock told the deputy Henry got two extra paychecks in addition to her regular pay for nearly $2,300 in 2019.

According to the affidavit, Henry told Hathcock she had written herself two extra paychecks because she was facing some hardships. The defendant was fired the following day on Dec. 6.

It is noted in the affidavit that Henry worked for the water association for 12 years as the office manager.

A detective was provided a "Summary of Embezzlement" describing the sums Henry allegedly took or spent. A figure of about $7,300 was listed for unauthorized credit card charges Henry is accused of making.

The defendant is also accused of embezzling cash payments from customers, then logging the transaction as a check payment to their accounts.

Hathcock told a detective on Feb. 7, that Henry from March through December 2019 had stolen about $26,100 in cash from the water association. Hathcock later provided an updated figure on the amount of cash allegedly embezzled as she worked to clean up the organization's books. A figure of about $54,000 is listed in the arrest warrant affidavit filed on Feb. 21.

Hathcock did not provide an updated breakdown to The Daily Times of how the rest of the $150,000 was allegedly embezzled.

Henry was released from the San Juan County Adult Detention Center on Feb. 24.

Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for the morning of March 5 in Aztec Magistrate Court.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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