Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Aponte pastor: It was a sad experience

Updated: Friday, 03 Dec 2010, 8:42 PM CST
Published : Friday, 03 Dec 2010, 8:20 PM CST

AUSTIN (KXAN) - Two days after she surrendered to investigators, Louanne Aponte walked into a Travis County courtroom handcuffed and wearing a jail jumpsuit on Friday. It had been 9 months since investigators discovered missing money at the Hyde Park Christian Church.

"It is hard," said Reverend Jacqueline Baker Hammett. "It was a very sad experience for all of us."

Hammett said Louanne Aponte served as treasurer of the church's "Outreach Fund," which served many local and national charities.

"We contribute to SafePlace, Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels, Austin Caregivers, the Heffer Project and many others," said Baker Hammett.

All of the money for the fund was donated by members of the church congregation. But investigators believe Louanne Aponte stole nearly $7,000 from the fund between May 2006 and November 2009, according to court documents. She was indicted on the theft charges this week, shorty after surrendering to authorities after months on the run in South America.

"I think it says something that she's returning and that there's some degree of accountability, I hope, and we'll see how its resolved," said Baker Hammett. "We'd like to see the money used for the purpose for which it was intended but we understand there are many other persons in line for restitution."

Following the theft, the church restructured its finances and the Outreach Fund is now overseen as part of the overall church budget.

Louanne Aponte's attorney, Nate Stark, said Friday there is no large hidden stash of cash.

"I can tell you she has amassed no wealth," said Stark.

Aponte is also charged with stealing more than $1 million from the non profit Family Connections, a children's charity forced to close this year after the theft was discovered.

The state Health and Human Services Commission started an audit of Family Connections in 2009. In February, Aponte disappeared and authorities later learned she had gone to Venezuela. In April, Louanne's then-husband Marco Aponte was arrested for money laundering related to this case. The Aponte's later divorced.

Both Apontes are slated to return to court in January.

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