Theft allegations against former Charleston Animal Society President Charles Karesh resurfaced Friday when state agents arrested him and charged him with embezzling from the organization.
Karesh, 56, of Windermere Boulevard, resigned from his position with the society in December 2011 after being questioned about $69,000 that was reported missing. Board members later said the money was returned, and no charges were brought at the time.
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office asked the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate the case, SLED spokesman Thom Berry said. That investigation determined that Karesh had siphoned money from the organization from September 2007 until September 2011 while serving as acting executive director and president of the animal society, according to an arrest affidavit.
Karesh’s official charge was embezzling more than $5,000, and he appeared in bond court Friday morning.
His attorney, Frank McCann, cited a 30-year friendship with Karesh and said his client is a well-respected man with strong character. McCann urged Magistrate Linda Lombard to consider that there is no money missing from the animal society and that the organization has no desire to pursue the criminal charge in court.
Lombard interjected that SLED corroborated McCann’s statements and she moved to release Karesh on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond.
A statement from the animal society said it had conducted three audits to determine the amount of money missing, and that full restitution had been made by March 20. It also said it had cooperated fully with SLED’s investigation.
Berry declined to comment specifically on details of the case and the animal society’s wishes. He said SLED completed its investigation, as requested, and turned the findings over to prosecutors, who will make the final decision as to whether to go forward with the case.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said her office will balance input from the animal society with the strength of the case in deciding whether to prosecute.
The animal society is a designated agent for Charleston County and receives public funds to operate an animal shelter that takes in and cares for animals deposited by local law enforcement agencies, SLED said.
Karesh is accused of writing numerous personal business checks made out to the shelter that he cashed to get money, the affidavit stated. The bank later sent those checks back to the animal society for having insufficient funds, resulting in additional banking fees, the affidavit said.
An internal audit later put the amount of missing money at $71,388, SLED said.
The animal society’s statement said it has made changes since Karesh left the group. It has established separate finance and audit committees, and it has hired new chief financial and chief executive officers with nonprofit management experience, among other changes.
Karesh’s latest charge came a week after Charleston police arrested him after a former board member said Karesh kept spitting soup on his car.
Karesh was charged with malicious injury to property in connection with that incident.
In past interviews, animal society board members described Karesh as a dedicated volunteer who spent time on his philanthropic work at the expense of his downtown Charleston insurance business.
Among his many civic activities, Karesh was president of his synagogue and past chairman of the Charleston County Heart Association. In the late 1990s, he created the city’s Lunch Buddies program, which paired hundreds of mentors with children from low-income schools.
He also is on the city of Charleston’s planning commission.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.