LEAD, SD — A former bookkeeper at the Northern Hills Family YMCA in Lead, SD, was sentenced to seven years in a state penitentiary for grand theft and forgery.

The bookkeeper, Shelley Stevenson of Rapid City, SD, allegedly issued paychecks to herself, her daughters and her husband, and increased her wages by $3.80 an hour without approval by the Y board.

Stevenson was caught after the Y, which was going through financial difficulties, took a closer look at its books, says Tom Hagen, a member of the Y's board of directors.

The Y almost closed last summer, and Hagen was appointed to a committee to look into ways to save the facility, which offers a weight-lifting room, cardio area and swimming facilities.

“If we were going to ask the city for money and fundraise to save the Y, I felt like we needed to know exactly where money was spent,” Hagen says. “In January, we had the finance committee scrutinizing every nickel and dime, and they came across some improprieties.”

The committee then looked into the discrepancies more closely over the course of six weeks, contacted an attorney and went to the Lead sheriff.

The Y has learned a lot from the situation, Hagen says, and now the facility is in better financial shape. Memberships are up at the facility, and the Y will receive $46,000 in restitution. The board was hoping for more recovered money but is still happy with the outcome, he says.

Hagen recommends that all Ys and fitness facilities make sure their board of directors is actively involved in monitoring budgets. An annual audit isn't always enough.

“We learned we need to have checks and balances in place about who signs checks,” he says. “[Lead] is a small town and people trust each other, but my experience is that that's not a good way to operate an organization.”