Church lady arrested

WESTFIELD – A member of the altar guild at St. John’s Lutheran Church has been arraigned in Westfield District Court on a larceny charge after the pastor was advised that the church’s account with a florist was several thousand dollars in arrears.
City police report that a few days before Christmas the church’s pastor, Rev. Christophe A. Hazzard, reported that he had been advised by a representative of Flowers by Webster, the florist which provides flowers for services and special occasions at the church, that the store was owed about $4,000 for flowers provided to the church.
The case was referred to Det. Todd Edwards of the financial crimes unit of the detective bureau, who reports the pastor said that the flowers in the church are managed by the altar guild.
Hazzard told Edwards that one member of the guild, Debra S. Labombard, 54, of 72 Pequot Road, Southampton, has handled the altar guild account for about 20 years. He said that his caller from the flower shop had said that she had tried to contact Labombard but had not received a response to her repeated calls and messages.
Edwards found that the bank account had been opened in 1992 and that Labombard is the only person who has ever been authorized to access it. Edwards was able to review the bank’s security video and found that it showed Labombard making withdrawals from the account.
Edwards interviewed Labombard who said that her practice has been to buy money orders at various locations to pay for the flowers and leave them in a flower urn for the florists to collect when they pick up the urns to refresh the arrangements.
A representative of Flowers by Webster told Edwards that she has sporadically found payments in the urns left for the florists but said she didn’t know why Labombard left them there. She said that none of her other customers make payments in that manner and said that Labombard was never asked to leave payments there.
Edwards was able to review the records of the altar guild’s account and found that there were considerably more withdrawals than payments made to the florist.
Edwards reports that, between December, 2007, and October, 2011, a total of $11,610 was withdrawn from the account but during that period only $4,220 was paid to Flowers by Webster.
In a document filed in Westfield District Court in support of his application for a criminal complaint, he said that on one occasion in July, 2011, Labombard had used a $300 withdrawal from the altar guild account to partially fund a $400 bank check which was made payable to the Hampden County Superior Court Probation Department.
Edwards said is his arrest report that a check of Labombard’s record showed that she had been convicted in 2004 of a scheme extending for more than a decade in which she had embezzled about $170,000 from her employer, Camfour Inc., and is required to make regular payments to the court.
He said that when he initially interviewed Labombard the hwoman had denied any wrongdoing and had promised to provide receipts to support her claim.
Edwards reports that on Dec. 29, 2011, Labombard offered the church a check drawn on her father’s checking account for $4,000, less than the $7,390 unaccounted for in the altar guild account. The check was not cashed and was delivered to police as evidence.
Labombard did not produce documentation for Edwards to substantiate her account of payments made for the church flowers and she was arrested after an interview on Monday. She was charged with  larceny of property valued more than $250 by a single scheme.
Labombard was released from police custody later Monday evening when her father posted $500 cash bail and she appeared in court Tuesday morning for arraignment.
She was released when bail was continued at $500 and ordered to appear for a hearing in court on Feb. 17.
After Labombard’s arrest, Hazzard said that he was “saddened by the situation” and went on to say “I really do hope that Debbie gets the help she needs.”
He said that he has been pastor of the church for about four years and had not known of her conviction for embezzlement “until recently.”

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