LITCHFIELD — In the coming week, members of the Litchfield Farmers’ Club will direct nearly all their energy to hosting the annual Litchfield Fair from Sept. 7-9.
“We’re going to open. Come see us,” said Charlie Smith, president of the club. “That’s the key word: Put it in bold print.”
Yet it’s less clear what the small organization will do in the coming months, as it tries to rebound from the shocking discovery that it had more than $120,000 stolen by an officer in the past couple of years.
On Aug. 23, police charged its former treasurer, 36-year-old Ryan A. Beaudette of West Gardiner, with taking money from the club.
After Beaudette was arrested on a charge of theft, a class B felony, he was released on $24,000 unsecured bail, said Maeghan Maloney, Kennebec County’s district attorney, in an email. He is scheduled to have an arraignment on Sept. 24.
While police allege that Beaudette confessed to stealing more than $10,000, representatives of the Litchfield Farmers’ Club say the impact has been far greater.
Besides the $120,000 that is missing from the organization’s books, they also say that Beaudette appears to have left more than $10,000 in unpaid bills for costs such as credit cards, insurance and electricity.
“I’m sure there will be a few more surprises,” said Smith, who took a break from harvesting hay to speak with a reporter on the phone. “Hopefully we’re getting to the end of it.”
Now, the organization is raising funds to help run next weekend’s fair. So far, it has brought in roughly $30,000, including two $10,000 donations, according to Smith. While the group “could use a lot more,” he said the fair plans to offer the same programing it always has next weekend.
The Litchfield Farmers’ Club is a nonprofit organization that operates the three-day fair with the mission of educating the public about agriculture and life sciences. It also offers $500 scholarships to high school students, and rents its fairgrounds for events like rodeos and concerts.
In 2015, the organization spent $134,233 and brought in revenue of $127,847, according to the latest tax forms available on the website GuideStar. It reportedly ended that year with a $47,046 balance, given the $53,432 it carried over from the previous year.
Smith said the group receives several sources of revenue, including ticket sales from its fair, fees from leasing its fairgrounds and donations. The group also receives an annual payment from a state program that supports agricultural fairsusing a small slice of Maine’s gambling revenue.
Smith declined to speak in great detail about those funding sources, but said the state funds make up a fraction of a percent of its revenue.
The organization’s 2015 tax form — which was prepared by Beaudette — indicates that about 65 percent of its revenue came from programming and 32 percent came from contributions, gifts and grants. The remaining 3 percent was mostly from miscellaneous sources, as well as a tiny amount of investment income.
Smith said the club erred by not having systems in place to ensure Beaudette was being forthright with his bookkeeping. Early this year, during the officers’ monthly meetings, the financial numbers he provided had seemed close to what they should have been.
“But there were reserve funds that weren’t where they should be,” Smith said. “We didn’t really have any indication this was going on.”
Because Beaudette worked as an auditor, Smith continued, “we put a lot of faith in this individual.”
“We probably weren’t giving this person as much attention as we would a normal person,” he said.
Now, the president will receive all bank statements, he said, and submit them to the interim treasurer and board of directors himself.
The group also is considering protections it didn’t have before, including an outside auditing service and insurance coverage for theft.
Going forward, the group will need to restore its reserve fund and the $10,000 account it used to fund its scholarship, according to Smith.
How easily that’s accomplished, he said, will depend on the proceeds from next weekend’s fair and how much the organization can receive in donations.
“Let me tell you, it’s a crap-shoot, a three-day fair,” Smith said. “If you get one day of bad weather, it affects us dramatically.”
He didn’t offer firm predictions for how his organization will weather the storm, but he insisted that it will, even if it means being “stingy next spring with repairs.” Smith said the organization is resilient, and noted that funding from the state early next year will help its bottom line.
“We’ll survive,” he said. “I guarantee you.”
Charles Eichacker — 621-5642
Litchfield Farmers’ Club President Charlie Smith, left, attorney Kevin Sullivan and Vice President Dick Brown are preparing for the Litchfield Fair, Sept. 7-9. The organization has received donations since discovering that more than $120,000 is missing from its bank accounts. (Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file photo)