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Former West Rowan Middle Band Booster treasurer charged with embezzling $14,000

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Chantel Racquelle Reliford

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SALISBURY — A former treasurer of the West Rowan Middle School Band Boosters club faces felony embezzlement charges after stealing $14,000 from the band over a six-month period, Rowan County authorities said Thursday.

Chantel Racquelle Reliford, 32, of the 3100 block of Statesville Boulevard, was charged with six counts of felony embezzlement of funds by a public trustee. She was issued a $5,000 secured bond and has since been released from the Rowan County Detention Center.

Club Vice President Amy Mitchell said despite the theft, which left the club’s account with only $1,000, the booster parents are determined to see that the students attend upcoming competitions in Virginia and Charlotte.

Initially, it was reported that the booster club could not account for $4,000. The only people who had access to the money was band director Nathan Bowman and Reliford, according to a Rowan County Sheriff’s Office report.

Reliford told Mitchell that her wallet was missing in October, but officials said that suspicious activity went back further than October.

Sheriff’s investigator Travis Allen met with an assistant principal, the band director and Mitchell, who provided account records that highlighted a number of cash withdrawals that were made with the bank card that was used by Reliford.

Bowman also provided paperwork for when he gave Reliford cash and checks to deposit. Authorities said Reliford kept the cash and deposited the checks.

Authorities say the amount stolen includes cash, bank withdrawals from the bank and an ATM, as well as purchases made using the band booster debit card in an amount over $14,600. The thefts were recorded beginning in August and until Jan. 11.

Officials said the bank card was used to make retail and restaurant purchases and used at ATMs in Atlanta and Fayetteville. In addition, there were a total of 40 fraudulent transactions, 10 of them for cash that was not deposited into the account.

Allen obtained a search warrant for Wells Fargo bank, where he looked at surveillance video and got banking documents. On Jan. 25, Reliford agreed to meet with Allen and admitted using the card and making purchases. Reliford also agreed to turn over any items to Allen that belonged to the booster club.

Reliford was arrested Tuesday and was expected in court Thursday for a first appearance.

Mitchell said booster club members found out the money was missing when they needed to make a payment for a trip to a competition in Williamsburg, Virginia. The payment was due Jan. 11, but there was only $1,000 in the account.

Mitchell compared the emotions she’s gone through in the past few weeks to the five stages of grief.

“You get angry, you hurt, you get mad, you cry a lot, you don’t sleep. I mean, it’s sickening to know that you have 130 parents that are fixing to find out that there is nothing, that they have fundraised from Day 1,” Mitchell said.

She said parents met last Tuesday and were told what happened. All 15 who were able to attend the meeting immediately began putting together a plan to come up with the money.

Mitchell said none of the parents wants to have to tell the students they can’t go to the competition so they will do all they can to find the money. Mitchell contacted World Strides, the company set to host the students during the Virginia trip, to ask for a payment extension. The company gave the booster club until Feb. 11 to pay $9,000 to cover the trip.

The students also have a competition trip to Carowinds scheduled for May. Mitchell said she estimates the boosters had a fundraiser every month to raise the money.

Mitchell said the parents aren’t angry but she could tell “their spirits were broken.”

The following Connect-Ed message was sent to West Rowan Middle School parents:

“At West Rowan Middle School, we appreciate the support of organizations like our Band Boosters. We recently learned about allegations of criminal conduct by a volunteer associated with the WRMS Band Boosters. While this saddens and concerns us, please know that our district and WRMS administrators are working and will continue to work cooperatively with law enforcement throughout this unfortunate investigation. … As we move ahead and plan for the future, we look forward to continuing to work with our boosters in supporting our school’s enrichment programs for the growth of our students. Thank you for your continued support in making West Rowan Middle School the best school to educate and grow our children.”

As to what happens next, Mitchell said the boosters will move forward. She is hopeful the community will rally behind the students. She said any contribution, no matter how small, would help recoup the losses. The money raised over more than a year not only was to cover trips but to pay for band instrument repairs.

“The biggest thing from the community, if I can ask for it, is prayers to get through this and to move forward from this and not dwell on it.”

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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