Local Angel Tree volunteer arrested, charged with theft
A volunteer with the local Christmas charity Angel Tree who’s suspected of taking gifts donated for children whose parents are incarcerated and returning them to the store in exchange for cash gift cards she used to buy gifts for her own family was jailed Tuesday.
Charabe Melody Allison, 46, was named in an arrest warrant charging theft over $100 from a nonprofit organization.
She was identified in the warrant as Charabe Lampert.
Her bond was set at $2,000.
Police confirmed Monday they were working with her attorney to arrange for Allison to turn herself in.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit, Allison returned an item donated to Angel Tree on Jan. 5 to Justice, a girl’s clothing store in the Central Texas Marketplace, and received in-store credit and then eight days later, on Jan. 13, returned additional donated items to the store, also for in-store credit.
On Feb. 24, according to the affidavit, Allison went back to the store and used the in-store credit, which totaled $181.82, “for personal gain.”
“Project Angel Tree was finished for Christmas already and none of the in-store credit was used by the local organizer,” the affidavit says.
Angel Tree is a nationwide program of the Prison Fellowship that allows parents behind bars to provide wish lists for their children, which are written on cardboard angels hung from Christmas trees in malls and stores throughout Central Texas.
Donors select an angel, buy the items listed and deliver them to the organization whose volunteers then distribute the presents.
At this point, no one else is suspected in the case, although the investigation continues, Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said.
“No one from the leadership of the organization other than the sole volunteer that we have a warrant for…is involved at all. We have no indication at this time that anybody else has done anything wrong,” he said.
“If somebody knows something and we get additional information then that could change things down the road,” he said.
The Waco Angel Tree Project has at least 400 volunteers, longtime Director Sharon Eads says.
She said in a statement released through her attorney that it would be impossible to vet every one of them.
“How do I investigate approximately 400 volunteers? Do I go and try to contact each one and ask them ‘did you steal a gift?’”
Jim Forbes the Prison Fellowship’s director of communication, said Tuesday the national organization is aware of the incident.
"Obviously Prison Fellowship does not tolerate this type of behavior. However this ministry was founded to serve those impacted by crime and incarceration, including the children involved in the Angel Tree Program,” he said.
“Nothing's changing and we are moving forward and looking forward to serving hundreds of children in Waco and Central Texas,” he said.