Indicted Bristol ex-foundation leader had extensive criminal record

BRISTOL (WJHL) – As the former executive director of the Bristol Public Library Foundation prepares to return to court next month to answer to charges she embezzled more than $20,000, a News Channel 11 investigation revealed the one-time community leader had an extensive criminal record dating back to the mid-1980’s.

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On August 20th, the Bristol Virginia Police Department arrested Anita Foster-Machado, 50, and charged her with six counts of embezzlement.   Police said she stole more than $20,000 between 2010 and 2013 by using the foundation’s credit card for personal purchases.

The news came as a shock to Bristol residents who long regarded Foster-Machado as a community leader with high-profile public jobs.

But long before Anita Foster-Machado led the public library foundation’s fundraising and community outreach campaign, court records show she was a repeat offender in the Sullivan County Criminal Court system.

In 1986, Sullivan County court records show Foster-Machado, then known as Anita Howell, was charged with 13 counts of writing bad checks and sentenced to 10 days in jail.

By January of the next year – records show Anita Howell was at it again.   During a span of seven months in 1987, police arrested Howell for a string of almost 85 crimes in Kingsport and Sullivan County.   Charges ranged from forgery, to burglary to grand larceny.  To all the charges, Howell pleaded guilty.

Records show Anita Howell stole more than $11,000 in checks, money, and jewelry.   Her victims included from two former employers, a family acquaintance, a personal friend, and a family member.

A detective on the case in 1987 wrote Howell had “no respect for the law or the system.”

After she pleaded guilty, a judge sentenced Howell in May 1988 to a year in jail to be served on weekends, and she was ordered to pay about $28,000 in restitution and court costs.

But court records show Howell violated her probation within a few months of her sentencing.

And then in 1994, court records show Anita Howell filed bankruptcy.   A judge released her from financial obligations related to her jail sentence.   That meant Howell paid only a small portion of the money she owed to the court and to her victims.

That bankruptcy filing was the last entry into Anita Howell’s Sullivan County court record.

Within a few years, Howell seemed to have launched a fresh start with a new job at the Bristol Chamber of Commerce.

Now Anita Foster-Machado, she worked for the chamber in its membership department developing relationships with local business and civic leaders.

By 2002, Howell was on the staff of Virginia Intermont College working to raise money for the now-closed private school in Bristol, Virginia.

In 2009, she was hired as the Executive Director of the Bristol Public Library Foundation.

“When Ms. Foster-Machado came to us, she came highly recommended,” said Jud Barry, Bristol Public Library Executive Director – a separate entity from the library foundation.   “She came with stellar experience from very stellar local institutions.”

In charge of more than $1 million left to the library by philanthropist Albert Noble, Foster-Machado’s job was to expand the outreach of the library and to build for the future through public fundraising.

In November 2011, she told the Bristol Herald-Courier newspaper she didn’t mind asking people to give her money.  “My mom will tell you I was born a fundraiser.” she said.  “I was always asking for money.”

But more money went out of the foundation’s accounts than came in from community donors, sources say.  By 2013, Anita Foster-Machado was laid off.  Soon, public library staff took over the foundations accounting, found problems with the books and called police.

“Speaking personally, nothing surprised me more than the things that I saw,” Barry said.   With no direct oversight over Foster-Machado or foundation’s day-to-day activities, Barry said he was unaware of the questionable finances until after her departure.

As for Foster-Machado’s criminal past, Barry said he and his staff at the public library had no idea.

“I’m sitting here wondering – why didn’t we know about that?”

Copyright 2014 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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