The longtime executive director of Renew, Inc., a local non-profit that helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, has been accused of stealing myriad donations from the organization’s Second Chance thrift store in Dolores.
Following an investigation by the Montezuma County Sheriff ’s Office, Cheryl J. Beene, 60, was issued summonses on Aug. 21 for both felony and misdemeanor theft. She is due in court Sept. 12.
Revenues from the thrift store help support WINGS, a battered women’s shelter in Cortez operated by Renew, and also fund counseling sessions and other services for victims of physical and sexual abuse.
Beene faces an additional felony count of witness tampering for allegedly instructing one employee to make false statements regarding the fate of an electronic gaming system that had been donated to WINGS for the use of clients and their children.
A 10-page summary of the investigation contains a long litany of allegations that describe Beene helping herself to donations of both merchandise and money from the store, as well as items intended for victims and their children staying at the shelter.
Sheriff ’s Detective Yvonne McClellan interviewed a number of current and former employees and advocates of Renew during her investigation.
According to McClellan’s report, Brenda Kell, who worked at Renew for five years, said during her tenure it was commonplace for Beene to examine all donations that came into Renew and take what she wanted before sending the rest to the store.
“Brenda (Kell) said it was so bad that if other employees or the employees’ friends wanted to make donations, they would wait until Cheryl was not working to ensure the donations would get to the women,” McClellan wrote.
Kell recounted one particularly striking example of Beene’s alleged practices: The Montezuma County Fair Board annually donates a Christmas tree to the shelter, she told McClellan, and asks for information (ages, genders and sizes) on the women and children staying there, in order to give them suitable presents. But one year when no children were residing at WINGS over the holidays, she said, Beene submitted her own grandsons’ information and then gave the donated gifts to them.
According to Kell, two electronic tablets donated by the fair board for the use of WINGS’s clients were appropriated by Beene as well.
“Cheryl told Brenda her grandsons needed the tablets for school,” the report said. Kell was told to “keep her mouth shut and to quit asking questions” when she persisted in challenging her boss’s actions, according to the report.
Terrie Williams, Renew’s board president, told McClellan that this July, Beene allegedly took an elaborate Xbox 360 gaming system donated to WINGS in 2015 by a charity named Child’s Play, along with a large cabinet custom-built for the system and donated by Elevation Exhibits & Events. Williams said Beene had the gaming system, valued at $2310, removed from the safehouse, supposedly to be sold at Second Chance.
But after it arrived there it was loaded onto a trailer, reportedly to be taken to Beene’s residence. Williams said another employee had taken photos of this occurrence.
Linda McKnight, the current manager of the thrift shop, reportedly told McClellan that Beene later told her, “If you are ever asked, I paid for a gaming system.”
In one poignant incident, Kell related that an elderly woman had come into the Renew office one morning last summer and given her a $10 bill, specifying that it was a donation for the clients of the safehouse. Kell said she passed the bill along to Beene. A little later that day, however, she allegedly asked Kell to go pick up her lunch for her, and handed her the same $10 bill to pay for it, according to the report.
McClellan was told that employees had been instructed to bring a collection jar containing cash donations made at the thrift shop to Beene’s office rather than depositing the proceeds in the bank along with money from the sale of merchandise. Beene then allegedly used those funds for lunches and purchasing Tupperware.
Other items of note allegedly taken for her personal use included:
- A portable CPAP machine still in its box. • A highboy dresser the giver said had belonged to her grandmother. • A laptop computer. • A Playstation.
Lacy Osterloh, manager of the safehouse, told McClellan that supporters would often drop off items there for the thrift shop, and Beene would select any she wanted for herself before the rest were taken to Second Chance.
After the Four Corners Free Press reported on its website in August that Beene was being investigated, Williams confirmed in an email that Beene was terminated Aug. 22, just a day after she had been served with the summonses. Beene had been with Renew for some 15 years.
Renew’s annual revenues from all sources were reported at about $325,000 last year.
Williams stressed that Renew will continue to provide uninterrupted services to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
“We believe that all individuals have the right to live a life free of abuse,” she said, “and we have advocates available 24 hours a day to help those individuals fleeing from violence.”
In just this year so far, she wrote, Renew has provided more than 1100 nights of shelter to abused women and their children at WINGS, along with meals and a supportive environment. The organization also provides criminal-justice services and maintains a 24-hour crisis hotline.
“The program has continued to operate without interruption, providing full services to the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Southwest Colorado,” Williams wrote.
“The board is committed to moving forward and supporting the organization as it transitions to new leadership in the coming months.”
District Attorney Will Furse explained that felony summonses such as those issued to Beene are a direct filing by law enforcement – rather than a suspect being arrested on a complaint from the DA’s office.
They are used only for non-violent offenses involving a suspect with no recent arrests.
“[Beene] has been summoned to court on those charges and the DA will be tasked with filing formal charges at a later date upon a review of the report and investigation,” Furse said.
“A felony summons is. . . an alternative to being arrested on a felony allegation,” he added, “but the DA has the ultimate discretion in filing charges, so charges have not yet been filed formally – but very often they mirror the same allegations contained on the summons.
“I like it because it gets someone into court a lot faster,” he said.