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Friday, July 1, 2022

Former Chamber Official to Serve Time for Embezzlement:

Judge Mohun has strong words for Ashcraft at Sentencing

After four years of embezzling more than $105,000 from the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism, Kelly Ashcraft got her due.

Ashcraft, 45, was sentenced to prison during a Thursday morning appearance in Wyoming County Court. She was sentenced to two and a third to seven years for second-degree grand larceny; two to six years for second-degree forgery; and one and a third to four years for first-degree falsifying business records.

She will be serving the sentences concurrently at a state prison and is expected to pay back the $105,024.78 once she gets out. If Ashcraft fails to pay, she will be sentenced again.

In addition to her prison time, Ashcraft was ordered to sign an order of protection and is unable to approach the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce until June 30, 2047.

Eric Szucs, the Chamber’s director of tourism, read a victim impact statement before Ashcraft was sentenced.

Szucs said he had joined the Chamber in 2016 where he met Ashcraft, who he considered not only his colleague but his friend. What the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism lacked in funds, they made up for in passion, he said, which could move mountains.

So when Ashcraft admitted she stole $105,024.78 from the agency, forged the signature of another employee, and failed to make entries in the Chamber’s business records as her duties required, Szucs said his world shattered.

The Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce, which is made up 90 percent of mom and pop shops, worked hard for their community and Ashcraft’s actions put that in jeopardy.

“A significant amount of the money stolen was during and after COVID,” Szucs said. “Because of the theft, manipulations and deception, she hurt our ability to help.”

First Assistant District Attorney Vincent Hemming said Ashcraft is not a drug addict nor does she have any mental illnesses. She also hasn’t paid any restitution thus far, and she had a prior conviction about 20 years ago for a similar crime.

Hemming had suggested a substantial prison sentence.

But Ashcraft’s public defender, Michael Manusia, said she was a 45-year-old woman with two children and had been married for 21 years. He said Ashcraft understood the gravity of her crimes and has cooperated throughout the entire process and has remorse for her actions. He asked for mercy for the court and said Ashcraft’s sentence should be the least restrictive to accomplish the goals of paying back the money she stole.

Ashcraft herself spoke up, apologizing to everyone who put their trust in her and said she understands the gravity of her actions.

Judge Michael Mohun said he sees a lot of people who aren’t criminals come through his courtroom. However, for four years, Ashcraft woke up everyday and thought about stealing and engaging in criminal activity.

“Every day you stole,” he told her. “Every day you went to work and thought, ‘How do I do it?’”

Mohun said Ashcraft stole an average of $25,000 a year which is about $500 a week.

“You stole money. You’re a criminal,” Mohun said. “You haven’t paid a nickel back.”

Mohun said Ashcraft asks for forgiveness, but hasn’t accepted responsibility except for pleading guilty.

Ashcraft was arrested in January after an investigation by Warsaw village police revealed she had been stealing Chamber funds since 2018.

The sentencing is a major downfall for now-disgraced Ashcraft. She was well-known throughout Wyoming County for her Chamber of Commerce role, which included conducting ribbon cuttings at new and expanding businesses.

She was also honored in 2019 with Alan B. Goodenow Memorial Award for Citizen of the Year. The award is presented by the Warsaw Chamber of Commerce — a separate organization — to a person who has shown outstanding commitment and service to the Warsaw community.

“This defendant has done nothing to show remorse for breaching trust of the small businesses that make up the Chamber of Commerce,” said District Attorney Donald O’Geen in a statement issued after the sentencing. “She failed to pay any of $105,000 that she stole from the Chamber of Commerce and its members. This sentence continues to send a message that violating the community’s trust will not be tolerated.”

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