February 26, 2014 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
Additional details have been released about Nancy De Avila, the cheerleading coach at Lake Orion High School, who resigned last week just before she was charged with embezzlement.
DeAvila was scheduled for a pre-trial hearing on two counts of embezzlement on Thursday, Feb. 27, after The Review went to press.
She was arraigned February 18 for both a felony and misdemeanor counts of embezzlement for allegedly stealing about $22,000 from the Natalie Rae Nance Scholarship Fund. .
Natalie Rae Nance was a 2003 graduate of Lake Orion High School, and the non-profit organization was created in her honor at the beginning of 2006. De Avila was one of the original volunteers who spearheaded the scholarship fund's creation after Natalie Nance died in a car accident.
The Oakland County Sheriff Office began their two-month long criminal investigation on December 2, 2013 after it was reported funds were missing from the non-profit's account.
Police notified Lake Orion Schools shortly after the report was made not knowing if De Avila was in charge of any other financial accounts through the school.
Lake Orion school officials have declined to comment but allowed DeAvila to continue coaching even after they were notified of the alleged embezzlement and her efforts to return some of the money, which was about $9,000 out of $22,000 allegedly taken.
The competitive cheer team won a district championship two weeks ago and DeAvila was named the district coach of the year. The team finished third over the weekend in a regional tournament in Hartland, which was good enough to qualify them for the state championships to be held this weekend in Grand Rapids.
After DeAvila's resignation, Lake Orion named her daughter, Nicole Hills, as coach.
According to the Oakland County Sheriff's Department report, there were two people in charge of the scholarship account: De Avila, and a Nance family friend.
It was the family friend who noticed the discrepancies at the beginning of November 2013 and told the Nances.
"They [the Nances] are bright people. They knew that their names were attached to this 501( c)3 and by law they have to account for accurate records," OC Lieutenant Dan Toth said.
If the Nances had not reported the discrepancies in the fund's financial records, they could have been found in varying degrees of negligence, Toth said. "There are federal guidelines that spell out you are bound to keep accurate financial records and not co-mingle them with personal finances. It wasn't an option," he said.
Although the police report found that funds were withdrawn improperly from the account over a period of three years, it wasn't until November, 2013, when the family friend noticed the account balance was seemingly too low, and then provided that information to Natalie Nance's family.
Both obtained the account statements and confirmed it was not consistent with what was expected for the non-profit's efforts.
For about two months the family requested to meet with De Avila to clarify what was going on and, according to police reports, were put off.
"When they were not getting the level of cooperation, that's when they went ahead and contacted the police with a report," Toth said.
De Avila would not meet with the family and did not deliver requested records of the transactions. However, the police report indicates checks were written back into the account after the family confronted De Avila.
Dozens of checks had been written out to Nancy De Avila over the three years, were used to purchase goods or services and were used to make payments to credit cards, according to the report.
Fewer than ten checks a year were processed through the scholarship fund for students. De Avila was handling the majority of the actual physical transactions, Lt. Toth said.
George Nance told The Review that he knew De Avila when she coached Natalie. He said the ordeal has been unbelievable and he feels terrible.
The scholarship fund awards graduating Lake Orion students for three areas: art, cosmetology and cheerleading.
"This is a nonprofit but it's still a business. It's not someone's personal checking account. It's unfortunate, but we will let the court process go forward," Toth said.