INDIANAPOLIS – United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler announced today that U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt sentenced Christina Short, 43, of Speedway, Indiana, to 27 months in federal prison for perpetrating a six-year scheme to steal over $450,000 from the charitable foundation where she worked.
“Those who donate to charitable causes should feel secure in knowing their funds will go where they intended,” said Minkler. “And those who choose to steal should likewise know that they will be caught, prosecuted, and held accountable in court.”
Short’s now-former employer was Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA), a national women’s college fraternity headquartered in Carmel, Indiana. ZTA has thousands of student members across approximately 170 colleges throughout the country, as well as approximately 200,000 living alumni members.
Short worked for over 16 years as the financial coordinator for the ZTA Foundation, which is ZTA’s 501(c) (3) charitable organization. ZTA Foundation raises money for scholarships and educational opportunities for ZTA students and alumni, as well as for breast cancer awareness. As financial coordinator, she was responsible for receiving donations in the mail, depositing them in the Foundation’s bank account, and ensuring that the donations are accounted for in the Foundation’s financial ledgers.
For over six years, beginning in 2012 and continuing until she was terminated in November 2018, Short perpetrated a scheme to steal donations and deposit them into her own personal bank accounts. In all, she stole 816 donations on nearly 500 separate occasions for a total of $450,874.48. She used the money she stole primarily for personal expenses, such as restaurants, clothing, youth sports, and vacations.
Her embezzlement went undetected for so long because of the sophisticated steps she took to conceal it. First, she focused on money orders or other donations that would not cause the donor to be alerted if the donation was deposited in her bank account—in other words, she avoided stealing personal checks.
Second, when she washed and altered the “pay to” line on the money orders, she used over 14 different variations of her name or her maiden name, such as “Kristina M Short,” “Christina Aranjo Short,” and “Christy Short,” in an effort to disguise her scheme from her bank.
Third, she made sure to record all donations in ZTA Foundation’s donation database software, including the ones she stole. As a result, she ensured that donors received confirmation and assurance that their donations were received, such as “thank you” cards and tax receipts. Donors would even see their name in annual ZTA publications, even though Short had pocketed their donations.
Finally, at the same time, she manually manipulated donation reports to hide the amounts she stole and ensure that the reports matched the ZTA Foundation’s bank records, so neither the Foundation nor their outside accountants would detect her thefts.
Ultimately, a bank examiner noticed a suspicious-looking deposit and contacted ZTA, who confronted Short. She admitted to stealing only that check and was terminated. ZTA immediately notified and cooperated fully with the Federal Bureau of Investigations and Carmel Police Department, who investigated and uncovered the full scope of Short’s six-year scheme.
Members of ZTA’s executive staff were present for Short’s sentencing and submitted remarks to the Court regarding the sense of personal betrayal that Short, a 16-year employee and one-time friend of many at ZTA, had caused.
“Embezzlement is a crime that diverts funds from their intended use and causes harm to businesses and individuals. This sentence clearly shows that if you choose to commit this type of crime, you will be held accountable for your actions,” said Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan, FBI Indianapolis. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to identify and investigate those who unlawfully enrich themselves at the expense of others.”
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Linder, who prosecuted the case, the Court ordered Short to repay the entire amount she stole, and that after sentencing, she made an initial payment of approximately $30,000. Short will also serve three years of supervised release after her 27-month prison sentence.
In October 2017, United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler announced a Strategic Plan designed to shape and strengthen the District’s response to its most significant public safety challenges. This prosecution demonstrates the Office’s firm commitment to prosecuting complex, long-running fraud schemes. (See United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Indiana Strategic Plan 5.1)