By Linda Looney-Bond
A former director of operations for Rainbow House, a children's shelter located in Jonesboro, pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing approximately $435,000 from the organization over several years.
Calene Dunn, 57, of Griffin, pleaded guilty to two counts of theft by taking in Clayton County Superior Court. Judge Geronda Carter sentenced Dunn, Thursday, to five years in prison on count one, and 15 years on count two, to run consecutively - for a total sentence of 20 years in the state penitentiary.
Prior to sentencing, Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson told the court: "This offense was extremely devastating to the finances of our children's shelter. It's a horrible, horrible thing [to do]."
According to court records, Dunn worked for Rainbow House from September 1998 through January 2007. She committed the theft over more than a two-year period, from September 2004 through January 2007, according to court documents.
As director of operations for the shelter, which serves as temporary housing for abused and neglected children, Dunn's duties included accounting responsibilities, according to Graham Lawson. She said Dunn printed and hand-wrote checks, making them payable to herself. Dunn then forged the name of Greg Sterchi -- who was Rainbow House executive director at the time -- on the checks, according to court records.
Graham Lawson told the court that Sterchi learned of the check-fraud scheme when he came across a bank statement and discovered checks that he had not authorized. Sterchi confronted Dunn, who was arrested in January 2007.
Dunn, who bonded out of the Clayton County Jail in 2007, appeared in court, Thursday, dressed casually, in a plaid, beige-and-white shirt and brown slacks. After entering the guilty plea, and prior to sentencing, she read a prepared statement.
"It is with the utmost sincerity that I apologize for my actions," said Dunn. "I have no explanation for my actions. I have betrayed people who placed their trust in me," she said.
Following sentencing, she was immediately taken into custody. Dunn's court-appointed attorney, Brandy Alexander, declined to comment following the plea hearing.
Graham Lawson said Dunn reportedly spent the stolen money primarily on "vacations and entertainment ... so, there were no assets we could go and get." She said Dunn also reportedly gave some of the money to family members, and used the money to dine out frequently.
"I was told they ate out breakfast, lunch, and dinner," said Graham Lawson. "This [Rainbow House funds] is either government grant money, or it's charitable contributions," said Graham Lawson.
"This isn't a business for profit. This is a nonprofit that takes care of children that are neglected and abused. It's egregious," she said.
Concerning possible parole, Graham Lawson said: "I'm sure we'll write letters to Pardons and Paroles to say how huge the theft was, and that she needs to stay in longer than the guidelines would dictate."
Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles Spokesperson Scheree Moore said Thursday that Dunn "is eligible for parole after serving 1/3 of her sentence, which would be a little over 6 years."
However, she said, "The board is looking harshly at people who are taking from others, especially when it involves children."
Current Rainbow House Executive Director Belinda Jones declined to comment on the case, according to Julie Hand, program coordinator for Rainbow House, who said the organization simply wants to move forward.
For more information about Rainbow House, visit www.rainbowhouseinc.org, or call (770) 478-6905.