Meaghan Brooks, a former credit union employee, is accused of stealing nearly $75,500 from HAPO Community Credit Union.
Brooks, 40, was charged with first-degree theft with aggravating circumstances in Benton County Superior Court on Aug. 9.
Brooks pleaded innocent on Aug. 31. A jury trial is tentatively set for Nov. 14.
The alleged theft occurred between July 7, 2021, and Jan. 7, 2022, according to court documents.
The aggravating circumstance charge stems from the amount of money she allegedly stole, which court documents said was “substantially greater than typical for the offense.”
Brooks referred questions to her attorney, Nick Jones of Roach & Bishop LLP, a Pasco law firm. Jones did not return a request for comment.
Brooks was recognized in the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business’s 2019 Young Professionals program.
Brooks was HAPO’s mobile branch finance service specialist until resigning from her position in January shortly after being notified HAPO was conducting an internal investigation into cash missing from the mobile ATM she oversaw, according to court documents.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Brooks joined the American Red Cross Pacific Northwest chapter as a disaster program manager in May.
The Hills West Recreation Club, a tennis-and-swim club in south Richland, announced that it removed Brooks as president and discontinued her access to its bank accounts after learning of the charges against her.
HAPO officials told the Richland Police Department the theft was uncovered during an internal audit, which revealed that approximately $76,760 in cash had been issued for the mobile ATM, which is used at special events. The machine had a total capacity of $40,000.
When credit union officials examined the ATM, it held $1,300, leaving $75,460 unaccounted for.
HAPO informed Brooks it was investigating the missing money on Jan. 28, a Friday. She submitted a letter of resignation the following Monday in which she admitted she had faced “insurmountable financial problems” and had “irrationally turned to a solution that in hindsight, was a poor decision.”
Brooks acknowledged the theft to another staff member, estimating she stole $28,000. She signaled her intent to repay the money.
Court documents indicate that HAPO’s standard procedure was for two staff members to be present any time the ATM’s internal cash storage unit was out of the machine. But on some occasions, Brooks would bring in the unit herself to be reloaded, leaving times where cash was under her sole control.
An investigation determined wires in the ATM had been cut, leaving it unable to process customer transactions or account for withdrawals.
Brooks’ supervisor, who was not identified in court documents, reported that Brooks had become “increasingly possessive” of the mobile ATM and avoided allowing him to complete routine cash balance checks by having other staff members complete them instead.
Brooks is a Richland native who studied political science and international business at Carroll College in Montana. She worked in professional and collegiate athletics before returning to the Tri-Cities when her father became ill, where she joined HAPO through a temporary placement firm, according to her Young Professionals application.
The Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business Young Professionals program honors rising young professionals. Winners are selected by a panel of judges that includes newspaper staff as well as outside volunteers who scrutinize nominees for their career progress as well as their volunteer activities.
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