WINNSBORO, TX (KLTV) - An East Texas community says thousands were embezzled from their homeowners association account after years of not being shown financial records.
Last Thursday, authorities arrested Letha Anna Thomas for theft of approximately $30,000 that was reported as stolen from the Big Wood Springs Homeowners Association (HOA) bank account. Thomas served as the treasurer for the HOA.
Residents in this Winnsboro lake community of about 85 homes say the missing funds and arrest left them blindsided.
"We've been kept in the dark for three years," says Susan Humphreys who has been serving as the new treasurer for the past few weeks. "Now, it's all about building trust again."
Susan and her husband Sam Humphreys say for over a year they asked to see bank statements showing exactly where their monthly home owners association dues were going. After being given excuses, Sam says a special HOA meeting was called.
"The [former] HOA president tells us that [Thomas] had resigned and all of the money is gone, we are broke," Sam says. "It made me feel kind of sick and really misled."
Sam says he was also told at that meeting that Thomas was responsible for the missing funds.
The Wood County sheriff's office says the thefts occurred over a 26-month period before Thomas was arrested on September 24.
Judy Wagnor, a Big Wood Springs resident, says she also had been pushing to see financial records since she moved into the community a year ago.
"I could never get any of this information, there was always an excuse to why no one could provide this information for me, and I found it very odd," Wagnor says.
Residents say the funds are needed to go toward fixing large pot holes in their roads, a broken bridge, and necessary repairs to the dams that guard their signature lake.
"This is our future, this is everything that we are and for it to be ripped way because of thieving and bad management and bad choices," says Wagnor. "That's just not fair."
Mallory sessions, who has been on the HOA board since April says things will be run differently.
[We'll have] transparency, we want to have a community forum where every meeting is open, all the books are open," Sessions says. "Before, everyone was focused on secrets and doing stuff separately, there weren't board decisions together as a group."
It's a lesson learned that these neighbors hope will warn others.
"Do your homework, find out about your homeowners association," Wagnor says. "Know what's going on around you because most people don't know that an HOA is a public company and many here didn't know what was required of them."
Humphreys said many in the community are retired and on a fixed income.
"Thirty-five dollars a month is all we pay here for dues," Humphreys says. "It's going to take a long time to build $31,000 back up again."
Sessions says that they are now requiring background checks on all members who serve on the board.