Man accused of taking $30K meant for animal shelter

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GREENCASTLE, Ind. (Sept. 8, 2015) -- A man is behind bars, accused of fooling county officials who thought he was helping to re-open a humane society.

Prosecutors charged Ronald Brown, 46, with theft and deception. Investigators said Brown was recruited to help the Humane Society of Putnam County re-open its doors and instead, ripped the county off and pocketed $33,000.

"We're a small county and people tend to trust people," Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter said.

The humane society has struggled for years to stay afloat. It has closed twice, most recently in 2011 and references "financial difficulties" and the need for a "sustainable business plan" on its own website. It even opened a thrift shop to try and raise money, but the shop hasn't raised enough.

The latest plan to reopen the doors involved a partnership with the county and plans to start operation this summer. Brown was working with contractors to get the work done, Bookwalter said.

"Mr. Brown held himself out to be a grant writer and he kind of morphed himself into acting like he was the project manager," Bookwalter said.

Investigators said Brown turned in phony invoices to the county, saying he had paid the contractors and needed to be reimbursed. Not only did county officials pay out the money, they later paid it out again to the contractors after learning they had yet to be paid, in what appeared to be an oversight between departments.

On top of that, Bookwalter said it doesn't appear anyone looked into Brown's past and instead trusted him blindly.

"We found out in his bond hearing ... that he (has) a prior theft conviction and a prior forgery conviction out of Marion County," Bookwalter said.

In court paperwork, investigators said "Brown acknowledged he turned in claim vouchers ... and received payment" and that "Brown also acknowledged he paid one company some money, but did not pay any other vendors and (kept) the money."

That money totaled more than $33,000 in all.

It was unclear Tuesday if the humane society would be able to re-open after the loss. The state is investigating further and could hold officials responsible for the loss of taxpayer money.