Woman charged with stealing $180,000 from Mustang Hockey Association
A 33-year-old woman has been arrested for allegedly stealing roughly $180,000 from the Mustang Hockey Association.
According to an Anchorage Police Department online Nixle alert issued Monday, June 26, volunteer treasurer Jennifer Suchan, 33, was caught making unauthorized withdrawals from the Chugiak-Eagle River nonprofit youth hockey organization. Suchan (who until recently went by the name Jennifer Kerr) is accused of stealing the money over a 22-month period from August, 2015 until the money was discovered missing by MHA board president Joey Merrick on June 19.
Following an investigation by APD, Suchan was arrested Monday on charges of first-degree theft and scheme to defraud. She was taken to the Anchorage Jail and later released on bond, according to an online database.
Merrick said he became aware of irregularities in the association’s finances when he checked its account online June 19.
“After about 10 minutes I noticed there were some serious problems,” he said.
After discovering the apparent theft, Merrick said he immediately contacted police and the association’s bank; soon after, detectives launched an investigation and the bank accounts were frozen.
Merrick said he and the board had no prior reason to suspect anything was amiss. The apparent theft, he said, left him “shocked.”
“I’ve been sick to my stomach for a week,” he said Monday night, several hours after news of the arrest was made public by APD.
In a statement about the arrest issued Monday night, the association said it was “dismayed” by Suchan’s actions.
“It is deeply disappointing for a close-knit community such as Eagle River to experience such fraud and deceit by one of our own,” reads the statement. “MHA vows to remain a premium hockey program dedicated to developing young players both on and off the ice. Our amazing group of coaches, volunteers, parents and players will demonstrate our resiliency by moving forward despite the current situation. Additional quality controls have been instituted to assure confidence in our future fiscal oversight.”
According to the association’s website, the Mustang Hockey Association offers both house (recreational) and competitive hockey programs for kids ranging from 4 to 18 years of age. The association was formed in 1983 in advance of the opening of the new Fire Lake Recreational Center (since renamed the Harry McDonald Center) in Eagle River. The league’s first full season was during the winter of 1984-85, the first year the McDonald Center was in operation.
“The goal of this league is to teach basic skills and develop each player to his/her maximum potential,” reads a mission statement on the website.
According to the site, the group’s board held its most recent monthly meeting June 14 in Eagle River. As of Monday night, no minutes had been posted from that meeting.
However, the website does include minutes from the May 5, 2016 meeting at the McDonald Center in Eagle River that provide a window into its finances.
According to those documents, a treasurer’s report filed by Jenn Kerr (according to police spokeswoman Renee Oistad, Suchan and Kerr are the same person. “She got married recently,” Oistad said Monday night) stated the association had approximately $155,000 in the bank at that time.
“(W)e started the year with about 149,000 dollars and ended the year with about 155,000,” read the minutes.
Merrick said the association spends hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Ice time alone, he said, costs in the neighborhood of $250,000 per year.
“Hockey’s an extremely expensive sport,” he said.
He said the theft appeared to have taken place for much of Suchan’s roughly three-year tenure as treasurer.
“It was over a long period of time, it wasn’t something that came out overnight,” he said.
He said the association will be able to weather the current storm, and vowed the theft won’t impact MHA’s on-ice operations.
“We’re going to continue to move forward as an organization,” he said.
Merrick said he’s been working closely with police since the funds were discovered missing, and has contacted accounting firms for advice on how to better handle the association’s finances. In the coming weeks and months, he said, the association will continue to closely examine its policies and procedures.
“There’s lots of things we’re going to look into and we’re going to discuss,” he said.
He said the association will seek “full restitution” for the amount allegedly stolen by Suchan, who could not be reached for comment.
On Monday evening, Jennifer Kerr was still listed as the MHA treasurer. A photo of her remained active on the site, but an email sent to the address associated with the group’s treasurer bounced back as undeliverable. By Tuesday, her photo had been removed from the page, with TBD listed as the group’s treasurer.
Merrick said he hopes the incident doesn’t reflect badly on “one heck of a group” of volunteers who keep the association running.
“One bad apple’s not going to spoil all the good things that we’ve done to create hockey players and to help create great members of this community,” he said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at [email protected].