A Georgia woman is heading to prison for two years for she stealing money from a GoFundMe account that she set up for a family friend who was killed in Afghanistan.
Brandy Michelle Holder, 41, was sentenced last week in Rome, Georgia after pleading guilty to felony theft by conversion.
Holder created the GoFundMe account for Barry Sutton, a Marine veteran and former police officer who was working as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan. Sutton was one of the victims of a suicide car bomb that struck a NATO convoy in Kabul last year.
In May, Holder was arrested after investigators discovered she withdrew over $4700 from the account she established to benefit Sutton’s three daughters, according to GoFraudMe.
After the funeral, she told people she wanted to organize something special for his daughters, whom Sutton loved hunting with. She said would organize one last hunting trip for the girls in their father’s memory, according to the Washington Post.
“She just wiggled her way in,” Freddie Sutton, Barry’s older brother, told The Washington Post. “I don’t know how she got put in charge of the idea. I think she sold the kids on it first.”
Holder sold the community on the trip, with groups such as Friend of Floyd County Sheriff’s Office sharing the GoFundMe page on social media. She called the trip “one more time in the blind for Barry.”
The GoFundMe page included picture of Sutton’s hearse, his daughters holding rifles, and Sutton in his fatigues.
According to his obituary, Sutton began his career in law enforcement with the Floyd County Police Department in 1996 after serving the Marine Corps. he began on patrol, but later moved to Selective Enforcement and was involved in the Drug Task Force and the SWAT team.
In 2009, he began his employment with the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office but left in 2011 to go overseas. He was hired as a contractor by DynCorp to train police officers, as part of a NATO effort, in Afghanistan.
“Barry was a solid career officer, Floyd County Police Department SWAT veteran and deputy,” said Sheriff Burkhalter. “A great family man. Barry left law enforcement to provide for his family. He knew the risks and rewards. I’m proud to have associated with him and I mourn with his family and extended law enforcement family.”
It did not take long for the donations to pour in for the Marine and career law enforcement officer -almost $4,800 in all.
Holder wrote on the GoFundMe page, “I cannot express my appreciation. We reached our goal!!!! Just a recap, there will be a memorial duck hunt “one more time in the blind for Barry” with all three girls. The dates are already reserved. I am currently searching for a place to have the deer hunt.”
But Sutton’s family never actually the $4,778.32 from the GoFundMe account, only $400.
When Sutton’s ex-wife attempted to contact her, prosecutors said, Holder was evasive. According to North West Georgia News, she eventually paid a deposit on the hunting trip but didn’t pay the rest of the fee and kept the funds.
Prosecutors said that once police began to investigate she overdosed on medication and had to be treated in the ICU.
GoFundMe defended their services, saying it strives to protect donors.
“We deploy proprietary fraud prevention technical tools and have multiple processes to verify the identity of campaign organizers,” said spokesman Bobby Whithorne. “We also have a dedicated team that works around the clock to monitor fraudulent behavior. We also utilize tools that are on par with the financial services industry in order to prevent fraud.”
GoFundMe said it is working with the family to ensure the funds from the campaign go to Sutton’s daughters.
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