LaGRANGE —Detectives with the LaGrange Police Department are investigating the theft of at least $5,000 from the LaGrange-Troup County Humane Society.
Lt. Dale Strickland, head of the Criminal Investigation Section, said detectives arrested Kolawale Atabo, 28, of LaGrange, last week and charged him with theft by conversion, a felony.
According to officials with the Humane Society, Atabo was the president of the organization’s volunteer board of directors, although he was only officially in that position for just over one month.
Since the investigation began, Atabo was asked to step down. Carla Collins has assumed the new role as president of the board.
“I feel in many ways most of us are still in shock over this incident and just trying to understand what motivates a person to take from those who are trying to provide help within the community,” Collins told the Daily News via email.
She said the theft was caught less than a month after Atabo took office, on Feb. 8, by the Humane Society’s treasurer, Ken Boatwright, and administrative assistant, Linda Couto.
According to Collins, the two were going through the January bank statements and immediately noticed discrepancies in the paperwork.
“Immediate steps … were put into action and Charter Bank was notified to freeze the accounts,” Collins explained. “An emergency board meeting was convened that afternoon to remove Mr. Atabo from the accounts until a full investigation could be conducted. The next day, after all accounts were inspected, the board voted to remove Mr. Atabo as president and new officers elected to fill the president and vice president positions.
“The Humane Society was truly blessed that day for the sharp eyes and quick action of both Ken and Linda and we could not more thankful,” she added.
Collins said board members also filed a report with the LaGrange Police Department on Feb. 9.
Atabo was arrested two days later on Feb. 11, added Lt. Strickland. None of the money had been recovered.
Collins said the organization was surprised by the crime and disappointed it allegedly occurred by someone within their group.
She stated Atabo became an active volunteer two years ago. He was voted in as secretary for the 2015 calendar year.
Collins said he served that job well and accepted a nomination for president of the volunteer board of directors. He was elected in December 2015.
“In my many years of involvement with the LaGrange-Troup County Humane Society, I have never experienced such an enormous breech of trust from within its membership,” she stated. “We operate on a very strict, tight budget. We are a nonprofit 501-C organization that functions 95 percent on volunteer manpower and donations. And we take our job of honoring those donations, many times in honor of a loved one or beloved pet, very seriously.”
Collins said the organization is glad Atabo’s alleged crime spree quickly came to an end. Now they are committed to moving forward and diligently helping pets in need.
“As we continue to work with the police toward a resolution, we still have a job to do and animals that need food, vaccines and a warm place to live,” she said. “There is no guarantee that we will ever be paid back by Mr. Atabo, so to help make ends meet in the meantime, donations are greatly appreciated: dog and puppy food, cat and kitten food or monetary donations.”
Anyone wanting to help out the organization may call the LaGrange-Troup County Humane Society at 706-298-3608.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.