Crime

$73k stolen from police charity paid for bills, beer, baseball tickets, court files say

Former Boise police officer Mark Furniss and his wife, Sara, stole charitable organization funds for at least five years to pay personal phone and cable bills and to buy a variety of household goods and luxury items, including professional baseball tickets, according to court documents.

In total, they are accused of misappropriating about $73,800 in funds from the Treasure Valley Lodge #11 Fraternal Order of Police from January of 2011 to January of 2016. They have both been charged with felony grand theft. According to court documents, both acknowledge using FOP funds for personal expenses, but only Sara Furniss has said any of the misappropriation was intentional. She is accused of taking the lion’s share of the funds.

At a probable cause hearing last month, Canyon County Special Prosecutor Ellie Somoza asked Judge Michael Oths to set a $50,000 bond for each of the Furnisses because of information investigators had received about the couple filing for bankruptcy and planning to make a fresh start in Alaska.

“OK, under those circumstances, that’s a reasonable amount,” Oths said in the recorded hearing, which the Statesman reviewed. “I was going to book-and-release. I think risk of attendance makes it different.”

Federal court records show that Mark and Sara Furniss filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Oct. 20.

Meridian police arrested the couple at their Meridian home Nov. 25, and they were booked into the Ada County Jail just before midnight. They posted bond and were released from jail.

Mark Furniss, 46, was arraigned Friday, Dec. 2, and Sara Furniss, 40, was arraigned Monday. He is being represented by Boise attorney Chuck Peterson, while she’s being represented by Boise attorney Michael Bartlett. Both have preliminary hearings scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Dec. 23 at the Ada County Courthouse.

Mark Furniss joined Boise police in 2007 and was a longtime president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. He was suspended during the investigation into financial discrepancies and later resigned from his job, BPD officials said.

Sara Furniss was the part-time secretary/office manager for the group, which raises money for officers injured or killed in the line of duty.

In a meeting with Nampa investigators in late October, Sara Furniss and her attorney provided a written statement, according to court documents. She said that she and her husband began experiencing financial problems in 2008 — and that’s when she began abusing her position.

“Sara said she had set the [personal] cable television/phone bill up to be automatically deducted from the FOP account,” says one of the probable cause affidavits filed by Nampa Police Det. Gary Marang. “Sara said she set this up with good intentions and was supposed to pull the $100 out of her paycheck every month; however had she done that she would not be able to pay their bills.”

She said the couple needed $2,700 for a downpayment on a $13,000 travel trailer but didn’t want to touch their savings, so she wrote an FOP check to herself.

Other key details in the probable cause affidavits filed by Marang:

The reason the local FOP board decided to take a look at the couple’s finances was because longtime chapter president Mark Furniss had asked them to consider raising dues to cover legal costs. That sparked an internal investigation into why funds were so low.

An “exploratory committee” found evidence that the group’s funds were waning due to several forms of apparent fraud: overpayment of wages to Sara, unauthorized personal transactions by Sara using the FOP general funds credit card, and unauthorized transactions by Mark using the FOP’s fundraising account credit card.

A forensic audit performed by an outside accountant found Mark Furniss responsible for $11,134 in FOP losses, while Sara Furniss was responsible for $62,730 in losses.

The auditor’s breakdown of Sara Furniss’s missappropriation of funds shows that she: overpaid herself $28,416, made $6,486 in payments to a personal Century Link account, made $7,919 in payments to a personal Verizon account, made $6,342 in unauthorized retail purchases, made $1,783 in unauthorized credit card payments, wrote a blank check to herself in the amount of $10,227, made $360 in unauthorized conference payments and made $917 in unauthorized donations and sponsorships, caused $800 in bank fees related to overdrafts.

In a recorded interview with current Fraternal Order of Police President Joe Andreoli in January, Mark Furniss admitted that FOP funds had been used to pay his personal RC Willey account. He acknowledged three other payments from the FOP account but explained them as mistakes due to choosing the wrong account on a dropdown menu.

Sara told investigators she was responsible for the FOP’s general fund credit card, while Mark had sole possession of the fundraising credit card.

Andreoli confronted Mark Furniss in February about his alleged use of an FOP credit card to purchase Pittsburgh Pirate baseball game tickets and $540 in items from Lowes, including a $498 residential canopy. The group’s bylaws say that any purchases over $300 must be cleared by the board.

The FOP board reviewed 19 Costco receipts from purchases made with the fundraising credit card and determined that 15 were “clearly not for the FOP lodge.” Those items included “numerous 36-packs of Budweiser beer,” clothing, children’s toys, batteries and books.

Treasure Valley Lodge #11 has 364 members, including 348 sworn officers.

The group provided information from an internal investigation to Meridian Police, who conflicted the case out to Nampa Police.

The FOP chapter’s GoFundMe account raised more than $73,000 following the Nov. 11 shooting by fugitive Marco Romero of Boise Cpl. Kevin Holtry, Cpl. Chris Davis and police K9 Jardo. The dog died five days later.

Andreoli, the current FOP president, said about a dozen new processes were put in place soon after the financial discrepancies were discovered to protect the group from theft.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

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