Houston & Peach

WRALL ex-president turns himself in to authorities on alleged theft charges

WARNER ROBINS -- Two ousted Warner Robins American Little League officials face felony charges for allegedly using league credit cards for personal expenses.

Twenty-six counts of theft by taking fiduciary have been filed against ex-league president Joseph Stella, 37, of Warner Robins, Houston County sheriff’s Capt. Jon Holland said. Stella also faces four counts of felony identity fraud for allegedly signing someone else’s name when making purchases with a league credit card.

Stella turned himself in Thursday and was released on a $15,000 bond. Lars Anderson, a Macon attorney representing Stella, declined comment, citing the ongoing sheriff's investigation.

Former Little League softball vice president Darin McDowell, 40, of Warner Robins, has been charged with six counts of theft by taking fiduciary. He is free on a $6,500 bond after turning himself in Wednesday. His Warner Robins attorney, Jeff Grube, could not be reached for comment.

Stella is accused of purchasing about $5,000 worth of household and home improvement items -- including paint, a fire pit and an outdoor tent -- with a league credit card, Holland said.

McDowell is accused of purchasing about $300 worth of household goods, including blinds and ant killer, with a league card, Holland said.

Sheriff’s investigators obtained surveillance video from stores that show Stella and McDowell making purchases with league cards, Holland said.

The credit card purchases were made between June 2014 and May 2015, Holland said.

Stella and McDowell also remain under investigation in connection with an estimated $10,000 reported missing from a cash fund used with concession stand sales and for payment of game officials, Holland said.

The missing money part of the investigation is expected to take longer because funds that should have been in the account are based in part on projected -- and not actual -- revenues from concession sales, Holland said.

Also, some game officials are paid, and some are volunteers. Investigators, with the help of league officials, are backtracking to trace those payments, Holland said.

Cliff Rushin, board president and information officer for the league, could not be reached for comment.

Upon instruction from the Little League’s national office, Rushin and league treasurer Carrie Ann Lanford O’Brien filed a police report Saturday about the credit card purchases and emptied cash fund.

The board previously had met about the incidents, banned Stella and McDowell from all league activities and had given them 30 days to make restitution, according to the report filed with the sheriff’s office.

The report was filed with the sheriff’s office as opposed to the Warner Robins Police Department to avoid a conflict of interest because one board member, Greg Martin, is a Warner Robins police officer. And another board member, David Hale, is a former Warner Robins police officer, the report said.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.