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By LAURE CIOFFI



Published: Sat, September 1, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Angenette Wallace walked into court with a thick wad of $20 bills and walked out a free woman.

Wallace, 40, of Hamilton Ave., had faced charges of theft by unlawful taking and access device fraud after being accused of taking money from her employer, the American Red Cross.

The district attorney's office didnot just agree to reduce the charges after she gave Red Cross officials $4,805.63 in cash and agreed to forgo an $1,100 check the Red Cross owed her. The district attorney's office dropped the charges.

She handed over the money in District Justice Melissa Amodie's courtroom Friday after prosecutors agreed to withdraw the charges if she paid up. Wallace had been scheduled for a preliminary hearing that day.

Job performance: Wallace worked as an office manager for the Lawrence County American Red Cross for about a year before she was terminated for job performance issues, said Tony DeCaprio, executive director.

Only after she left did Red Cross workers discover discrepancies in the agency's checking account and credit-card bills, he said.

Police said employees found $4,220.44 worth of unauthorized credit-card charges to the Red Cross, which included several charges to Penn State University. Authorities said Wallace's daughter, Samantha, is a student at Penn State's main campus.

Red Cross employees also discovered payments totaling $964 from Red Cross accounts to two unauthorized cellular telephone accounts, police said.

There were also three checks police say were not authorized by Red Cross officials: a $300 check was paid to Wallace for a seminar they later determined she did not attend, $197.27 to Wallace for petty cash and $235 to Gateway Center Apartments in State College, Pa., where her daughter lives.

Returned money: DeCaprio said the organization was more interested in getting its money back than prosecuting Wallace.

"We just wanted to get through this. Because we are dealing with the donated dollar, we had a responsibility to recoup what we could," he said.

District Attorney Matthew Mangino said his office agreed to withdraw the charges because Red Cross officials were satisfied with getting their money back.

"There were factors that went into this including the fact that she agreed to come in and pay restitution in full. If she came in and said I'll pay you back, but only $10 a month that would be different," he said.

Mangino said it is unlikely that the Red Cross would have gotten its money back quickly and in a lump sum if they had pursued the charges.

DeCaprio said the missing money did not affect services and the publicity surrounding Wallace's arrest have not slowed down donations to the disaster relief organization.

"The community has been very supportive, and they realize these things happen. It was one person, not the organization," he said.




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