A volunteer with the organization that helped open and respond to well-over 1 million Christmas cards sent to arson survivor Safyre Terry stole donations made to the girl, police said Friday.
Kimberly M. Bradford, 41, of 1917 Elizabeth St., Rotterdam, now faces one count of fourth-degree grand larceny, a felony.
Police, who received the initial complaint Jan. 25, say their investigation is ongoing and more arrests are possible.
Bradford is accused of taking $800 in cash and $550 worth of retailer gift cards meant for the girl and doing so after Safyre’s aunt and legal guardian Liz Dolder told her not to leave the Safyre’s Angels facility at the Rotterdam Industrial Park with any property, according to court paperwork.
Bradford’s attorney Glen Brownell on Friday said that his client “emphatically denies” the allegations and “we intend on defending it vigorously.”
Police spokesman Lt. Michael Brown on Friday said that organizers initially allowed Bradford to take opened, empty cards that had phone numbers and emails home to send out responses and thank yous.
After allegations of possible thefts surfaced, Bradford was told not to leave the building with anything, that all the responses were to be done at the warehouse, Brown said.
“It was after that that they still found her with money and gift cards at her house,” Brown said.
She is accused of possessing the money and gift cards Jan. 15, according to the charging paperwork.
Bradford is accused of taking the money through her volunteer work with Safyre’s Angels, an organization that began as an ad hoc effort in the wake of December’s Christmas card deluge.
An online request for Christmas cards took off, resulting in well over a million cards and packages sent to brighten the 8-year-old survivor’s Christmas.
Safyre is the only child to survive the devastating May 2, 2013, arson fire at 438 Hulett St. in Schenectady. The fire claimed the life of her father, David Terry, and her three siblings, Layah, 3, Michael, 2, and Donavan Duell, 11 months. The arson remains unsolved.
Safyre, 5 at the time, suffered severe burns and underwent months of surgeries and hospitalization. She is now being raised in Rotterdam by her aunt and uncle, Liz and Michael Dolder.
Along with the Christmas cards came gifts of money and retailer gift cards. Online donations eventually topped $400,000.
The sheer number of cards meant volunteers had to open them. Organizers used a system where those opening the cards read the messages, then put any cash or gift cards in an enclosed box at the table for collection.
The Dolders set up a trust in Safyre’s name for the donations.
Organizers said there were security measures to ensure nothing happened to the cards waiting to be opened.
Safyre’s Angels announced the end of the public need for volunteers Jan. 26.
Bradford’s attorney Brownell said his client did not know the Dolders prior to the Christmas card effort. He believes she got involved through the Steel Riders, a local motorcycle group. Steel Riders president Michael Cseh, who took an early leadership role in the Angels effort but is no longer with the group, said Friday Bradford is not a member of the club.
Brownell questioned the charges against his client. He said she never got any of the cards until after they were already opened and empty. She also only took the opened and empty cards home with permission.
Brownell described Bradford as a nice woman who volunteers her time regularly. He said she is devastated by the allegations.
“She completely denies any of this ever happened,” Brownell said. “She’s just shocked by these allegations and, I’ll be honest, she’s kind of hurt.”
Bradford was arraigned and has since been released on a $10,000 bond.
The charge against Bradford comes as the Safyre and her family are to return soon from a donated trip to Disney and other parks in Florida.
Rotterdam police were assisted in the investigation by the New York State Police.