CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The attorney representing the Appalachian Children’s Chorus indicated Tuesday the organization is in financial dire straights after a former employee admitted to embezzlement.
Jacqueline Portillo, 51, of Hurricane pleaded guilty to four felony counts of embezzlement in Kanawha County Circuit Court Monday. The former employee admitted stealing $97,500 from the chorus using credit cards and bank accounts and then falsifying records to cover up the missing funds. She engaged in the embezzlement over a period of seven years from March 2010 until August 2017. The missing funds were discovered after she left the organization.
“The money as far as we can tell, according to her is gone,” said Charleston lawyer J.B. Akers who represents the chorus in the case. “It’s not like she has 15 or 20 thousand dollars around to pay back. It’s all been spent.”
Akers became involved soon after learning about the embezzlement from those within the organization. He said the chorus has been quietly working to get the money back, but fully cooperated with the Kanawha County prosecuting attorney as well in a separate investigation by the state. The chorus receives some state budget money every year, but the bulk of their operating funds come from donations.
“Most kids in this chorus are subsidized,” said Akers. “These aren’t a bunch of well to do kids who pay and travel around with this chorus. A lot of these kids come from very challenging backgrounds. The chorus uses their resources to give these children a better life and experiences they would otherwise not have.”
Although Portillio is facing prison time when she is sentenced July 30 the bigger question is how the chorus rebounds from the extreme loss. Akers said generosity will go a long way toward helping.
“These are kids who if the chorus didn’t support them, they’d have no chance to be a part of it. This money they’ve lost in this theft is crippling and they are in jeopardy right now,” he said. “If they can get some support from the community, even a donation of ten dollars or whatever amount you could send to help them out they could sure use it right now.”