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The Suburbanite
  • Woman pleads guilty to theft of $185,000 from education association

  • A former employee of the East Central Ohio Education Association has pleaded guilty to aggravated theft and forgery. Eva M. Gutwein has admitted to stealing about $185,000.

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  • A Jackson Township woman admitted Monday to stealing roughly $185,000 from the East Central Ohio Education Association.
    Eva M. Gutwein pleaded guilty in Stark County Common Pleas Court to charges of aggravated theft and forgery, both felonies, for taking funds while she was an administrative assistant at the district office of the Ohio Education Association, also known as the state teacher’s union, according to the Stark County prosecutor’s office.
    Gutwein, 53, of 5372 Blarney Circle NW, will be sentenced on Sept. 30. She could get probation or face up to three years in prison on each count.
    She paid back $97,000 prior to police contacting her, said Hope Konovsky, assistant Stark County prosecutor. The rest  — roughly $88,000 — will be paid back before she is sentenced, defense attorney Rick Pitinii said.
    The total owed — $185,939 — includes penalties and other costs incurred as a result of the theft.
    Rarely is full repayment made in fraud cases, Konovsky said. Gutwein no longer works at the East Central Ohio Education Association, which has an office in Plain Township.
    The office is one of the 10 district associations that make up the OEA network. “Regardless of what (Gutwein) does (the ECOEA) will get (the missing funds) back,” said Angela Stewart, president of the group.
    The organization serves public educators (union members) in Stark, Wayne, Holmes, Carroll, Tuscarawas and Columbiana Counties. The nonprofit organization — and the services it provides — are funded by a portion of the union dues paid by those it represents.
    DISCOVERING PROBLEMS
    The thefts occurred between January 2003 to March 28, 2013, according to court records. Gutwein cashed checks from multiple accounts, used Chase and American Express accounts for personal use, and forged and used four checks with an ECOEA account number, according to court records.
    Gutwein forged checks, bank statements and letters without the authority of the various banks involved or the IRS, according to court papers.
    She wrote checks and cashed them to herself, Konovsky said. The stolen funds created problems with the IRS, she said.
    Gutwein “wasn’t supposed to be handling the money,” she said.
    The misconduct surfaced when it was discovered that bank statements were not on file at the district office, Konovsky said. The president and vice president of the organization requested the information and learned that some bank accounts had been drained of tens of thousands of dollars, she said.
    The ECOEA hired a forensic auditor to investigate, Stewart said. The OEA was also contacted immediately.
    The missing funds have caused “no disruption to programs,” she said. The OEA “was extremely helpful in giving us resources.”
    “We have a zero tolerance policy for falsification of records or misappropriation of association funds,” Stewart said.
    “We are moving forward,” she said. A new position — business manager — has been created, Stewart said. “We are instituting some best practices suggested by (the forensic auditor),” she said.
    Page 2 of 2 - NO CRIMINAL RECORD
    Pitinii said his client is “extremely remorseful for the predicament she’s put everyone in.”
    “It kind of spun out of control,” he said of the thefts. “And she realized it was wrong and started to pay it back.”
    He said that Gutwein has no criminal record. Gutwein worked at the East Central office for about 12 years.
    In a statement to the sheriff’s department, Gutwein said she was trying to pay back the money before somebody realized it was missing, Konovsky said.
    Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 or ed.balint@cantonrep.com
    On Twitter: @ebalintREP