Harnois pleads not guilty Feb. 15

Harnois pleads not guilty Feb. 15
Tina Harnois, 40, the former program manager of the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development Company (VCDC), will stand trial May 19 on grand theft and embezzlement charges.

Harnois, who appeared before First Circuit Court Arthur Rusch in the Clay County Courthouse at an arraignment hearing Friday, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

She was indicted by a Clay County grand jury Monday, Jan. 7, of 28 counts of forgery and one count of grand theft.

Harnois, of Vermillion, was taken into custody by local police on Jan. 8 and is free on $10,000 bond, after depositing 10 percent of that amount, or $1,000, with the Clay County clerk of courts.

Her attorney, Lee Mc-Cahren of Vermillion, presented Rusch with a written document that included Harnois' not guilty plea.

McCahren, Clay County State's Attorney Teddi Gertsma, who will prosecute Harnois, and Rusch agreed on a discovery request, a process that allows one side of the lawsuit to be aware of information from the other side.

Rusch also scheduled a motions hearing at 1 p.m. April 18 in the Clay County Courthouse. This hearing will allow the judge to hear any procedural or evidentiary questions that may have arisen before Harnois' jury trial begins.

Her indictment follows an investigation begun by Vermillion police last November, when the VCDC board of directors discovered financial discrepancies.

According to court documents obtained by the Plain Talk, Harnois forged 28 checks on the VCDC's checking account between Nov. 1, 2006, and Nov. 2, 2007.

Thirteen of the checks were written to her, according to the indictment. Others were written to individuals or businesses.

The indictment also accuses Harnois of grand theft by taking over $1,000 from the VCDC.

According to a Jan. 10 Vermillion Police Department press release, the total amount stolen was $27,788.31.

On Jan. 7, the same day a Clay County grand jury met to consider whether to indict Harnois, the VCDC board of directors issued a statement to announce that it is searching for a new executive director.

Earlier this month, the VCDC Executive Committee hired Jill Chickering as its interim director, to replace Lisa Ketcham, who had served as the organization's director for the past five years.

Chickering is a past executive director of the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce, and has served in that capacity on an interim basis in past years.

She is employed at Higman Sand and Gravel in Akron, IA on a part-time basis until May. She has agreed to work for the VCDC on an interim basis only. According to a recent press release from the VCDC, Chickering is not interested in applying for the executive director position.

Chickering is in the VCDC office on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays; and represents the organization at community functions.

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