Ex-accountant charged with felony theft

Woman accused of stealing $91,759 from school board group

Posted: Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A former president of the Wrangell School Board was scheduled to appear in court today on a charge of stealing $91,759 from her most recent employer, the Association of Alaska School Boards in Juneau.

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Latonnie J. Barlow, 52, former owner of Wrangell's Dockside Restaurant and a former accountant for the school board association in Juneau, was arrested Friday on a charge of first-degree theft. The 52-year-old was accused of stealing from the organization that hired her about 18 months ago to process its payroll.

"It was a real shock," said Sharon Young, the group's associate executive director. "Everything appeared normal. There was no indication of anything out of the ordinary. She was very professional and appeared to be doing her job."

Barlow's bond was set Saturday at $20,000. She has not entered a plea, and further scheduling in the case was expected today.

Court records indicate Barlow has no criminal record in Alaska but was considered a flight risk because she had plans to leave Juneau. She could face 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000 if convicted.

Barlow was a trusted member of the small office in Juneau, Young said. Barlow had been well known in the organization for about five years, dating back to her work in Wrangell.

The association's executives contacted police on Friday when they discovered that three checks had been signed over to Barlow's Wells Fargo bank account in 2006.

According to court records, the association discovered that a $55,536 check was deposited into Barlow's account on July 10, a $4,500 check was deposited on July 11, and a $31,723 check was deposited on Nov. 10.

Authorities said in the court records that they believe they have a strong case.

Barlow's family could not be reached for comment Monday.

Longtime friend Donna Larsen of Wrangell spoke of Barlow in glowing terms. People in Wrangell knew Barlow as "Gussie," Larsen said.

"She was a very giving person, a wonderful lady," Larsen said. "If you didn't have any money and came into her restaurant to eat, she'd feed you. ... If anybody ever needed money, she'd help them out."

Barlow, a longtime Wrangell resident, closed her restaurant and moved to Juneau to get a job with the state, Larsen said.

Barlow's position with the school board association was one of responsibility. She recorded grants, processed the payroll and reconciled bank accounts, Young said.

Barlow resigned on Jan. 12, saying she had "some family issues to deal with." A relative was sick and needed Barlow's care, Young said.

About two weeks later, association staffers completed an internal audit and found abnormalities. They called police at 4:25 p.m. Friday. Barlow was arrested about four hours later.

Her stunned co-workers were left to deal with two discrepancies.

First was the missing $91,759; then there was the contrast between Barlow's reputation and the accusations.

"We had no indication that anything like this was going on," Young said. "We had known her for a long time."

The charges were crushing for people who know Barlow and respect her.

"She worked hard all of her life," Larsen said.

• Ken Lewis can be reached at ken.lewis@juneauempire.com.

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