Blue Plum leaders say despite nearly $50k of debt,plans move forward for 2017 festival

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL)- Tuesday, Blue Plum Organization leaders spoke publicly for the first time about plans to move forward after the arrest of the organization’s director this summer. Deanna Hays is accused of writing $50,000 worth of forged checks, draining the bank account of Blue Plum’s parent organization.

Her arrest came just weeks after the 17th annual Blue Plum festival wrapped up in downtown Johnson City. “We had no idea what was about to unfold,” Blue Plum president Shannon Castillo said.

Taxpayer dollars were in the Blue Plum bank account. The city of Johnson City made a $10,000 donation to the organization, according to Blue Plum President Shannon Castillo.

Tuesday in a conference room at the Chamber of Commerce in Johnson City, three Blue Plum board members, Jenny Lockmiller, Tracy Johnson, and Shannon Castillo, sat down to talk with us after they said their attorneys finally allowed it.

At the time of the alleged criminal activity, Hays was the director of the organization and the person in charge of book keeping.

A little over a week after the 2016 festival Lockmiller, Johnson, and Castillo said Hays emailed them alluding to a lack of money.

“It did not make sense, so we spent the day trying to make sense of it,” Johnson said.

They said they stayed up for the next 24 hours, ending up at the police department filing a report for check forgery.

“We were all stunned, we were, we were hurt, and we all felt betrayed and felt victimized by what had transpired. This person is someone we had known and trusted for years,” Castillo said.

Castillo and incoming president Tracy Johnson said Hays forged their names on 38 checks. Castillo said it wasn’t due to a lack of oversight.

“Unfortunately the financial statements that were prepared were falsified so even though our treasurer and the entire board were reviewing financial statements monthly they were incorrect and we did not know anything was awry,” Castillo said.

Fast forward to today, the board is raising money to pay a debt of a little under $50,000 to nine vendors. But that won’t stop plans for the 18th Blue Plum festival next year. Moving forward, the organization said it is making changes on how it handles finances.

“We now review the actual bank statement most other nonprofit boards don’t do that they have financial statements that (they) review but now we have separated powers even more so, a separate person gets the bank statement, another person reconciles, another person looks at the bank statement, another person looks of the checkbook,” Castillo said.

She said current board members will not be replaced, but the board will add more members in January.

“We are the victims here, we didn’t do anything wrong, there’s one person that did something wrong, and the amazing thing about our board, it would’ve been really easy for us to just throw up our hands and resign, walk away, but we’re also committed to paying back our vendors,” Castillo said.

As for Deanna Hays, she is set to be back in court on Friday.

Copyright 2016 WJHL. All Rights Reserved.

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