MICHIGAN CITY | A former official with a Michigan City animal shelter could face prison time on allegations she embezzled more than $100,000 from her workplace.
Jennifer Westphal, 41, of Michigan City, is charged in LaPorte Superior Court 1 with forgery and theft, both Class C felonies.
Each charge carries a potential sentence of two to eight years in prison.
Westphal was the director of shelter operations at the Michiana Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals along Ind. 212 on the city's far east side. Officials there announced Thursday she had been terminated.
Court documents state Westphal wrote checks belonging to the animal shelter for various cash amounts and cashed the checks between January 2007 and April 2013.
She is accused of forging the signature of Lorry Cates as maker/owner of the checks when Cates never executed or authorized the execution of the checks.
Cates is a board member for the shelter, which is funded strictly with donations, according to the organization's website.
Police were contacted after an audit at the shelter in April revealed the alleged thefts, according to court records.
The lead investigator in the case, Michigan City police Detective Cpl. Steven Alt, said he didn't know what Westphal allegedly did with the money.
He also said the exact amount taken and how the alleged thefts went undetected for so long is not known.
"I'm still investigating that," Alt said.
Alt said police were alerted to the alleged thefts by a report filed in April by the president of the Michiana Humane Society board, Steve Wolfinsohn, of Long Beach.
Cathi Rogers, director of communications and marketing for the shelter, said Westphal was terminated as a result of financial irregularities.
"Throughout this period of time, our regular services to animals, the public and donors have remained uninterrupted," Rogers said in a written statement.
According to the Michiana Humane Society and SPCA website, the organization, formed in 1920, relies strictly on donations to provide shelter, food, medical care and adoption assistance to about 1,500 animals a year.
The shelter's service area includes LaPorte County and Berrien County, Mich.