LA VERNIA -- The Greater La Vernia Chamber of Commerce’s board is without a treasurer, following a decision April 22 to oust Patsy Ritchey from that post. This was after it became apparent that Ritchey, an insurance agent here, is the center of a probe into the alleged misapplication of funds related to her Farmers Insurance Office on U.S. 87.
Farmers spokesman Mark Toohey said that his company terminated its relationship with Ritchey April 18, after conducting its own internal investigation. He did not specify what sparked the investigation or what led to the closure of Ritchey’s office. Toohey did urge her former customers to call Farmers’ district office at 210-338-6884 for further information.
Toohey clarified that Farmers agents are not employees of that company, but rather are independent contractors. Ritcheys’ Farmers Insurance website has been disabled, but a search of the Texas Department of Insurance website April 23 revealed that her insurance license remains active until March 12, 2014.
As for the Greater La Vernia Chamber of Commerce, members met for an informal emergency meeting in the La Vernia Church of Christ April 22. No official business could be conducted, said chamber Vice President Elaine Mazurek Stephens, because the organization’s bylaws require a minimum of 72 hours’ notice prior to a business meeting.
Instead, Stephens and board Secretary Shannon Titzman, along with immediate past board President Wes Becknell, advised attendees of what they began learning that morning about the investigation involving Ritchey. Stephens said Ritchey is under investigation by the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, which did not return telephone calls from the La Vernia News.
The vice president said it quickly became clear that the chamber should examine its own books, since Ritchey was its treasurer for the past 3-1/2 years. Chamber officers are working with officials from their bank, and will enlist the services of an independent auditor in an attempt to grasp the true nature of the situation.
“It does appear there is money missing from our bank account,” Stephens said. “It does appear to be more than $20,000. It could be more; we still have to look into other accounts.”
Becknell said that while Ritchey’s most recent report indicated a total of $68,715 between three funds, the chamber only could account for approximately $2,700 as of the meeting. This is why the chamber made a report with Chief Bruce Ritchey of the La Vernia Police Department, who has begun investigating the organization’s finances. The chief is of no familial relation to the accused.
The police chief said that Audrey Louis, assistant district attorney for the 81st Judicial District, confirmed that insurance investigator Gordon Bake has been looking at Ritchey for quite some time. Chief Ritchey said now it is a matter of “following the money trail,” which he said will involve scrutiny of five years’ worth of books. His last such investigation, into the La Vernia Junior High School Student Activities Account, took 17 months.
Becknell said Ritchey still is in possession of the chamber’s checkbook. Bank officials have placed a hold on this account and the chamber has opened a different account. He said that his attempts to reach Ritchey yielded a text message.
“She has expressed her sorrow,” Becknell said. “She is very sorry. She has expressed that.”
“We’ve got to pray for Patsy,” said businessman Keith Johanson. “She’s got a rough road in the future.”
The chamber’s next business meeting is set for May 1 at noon at the Blue Bonnet Restaurant in La Vernia. A board president and treasurer will be elected at the beginning of that meeting.