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More charges in Avita case
Ex-dance coach accused of embezzlement
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Authorities believe the former volunteer coach of a high school dance team was embezzling money from the nonprofit agency where she worked in order to pay club dues and recreation fees for dozens of students, including her daughters.

Kimberly Nicole Austin, 31, was arrested again Wednesday on 16 new warrants filed this week in Hall County Magistrate Court. Austin is accused of forging documents in order to steal money from Avita Community Partners, a Flowery Branch-based social services agency that serves 13 Northeast Georgia counties.

Austin was first arrested Sept. 17 on 11 warrants alleging theft by deception, forgery and identity theft.

The new warrants allege about $20,000 in theft, bringing the total amount alleged stolen to about $45,000.

“This isn’t all of it,” said Flowery Branch Police Investigator Chris Hulsey. “We’re not even halfway done.”

Police say the stolen money identified so far went to legitimate extracurricular organizations at Gainesville High School and Gainesville Middle School, including the GHS band and a basketball camp.

Austin also is suspected of misappropriating Avita money to the Hall County YMCA and Gainesville Parks and Recreation Agency, Hulsey said.

Hulsey said Austin, whose job at Avita involved processing summer camp applications, forged the names of teens who were ineligible for funds, then paid the stolen money to the school clubs. She is also accused of having several teens fill out application forms at Gainesville High School. The latest warrants name 19 applicants, some whose names were allegedly forged.

“She just went down the line and paid everybody’s dues with Avita money,” Hulsey said.

She is also suspected of using some of the stolen money to pay her rent, Hulsey said.

Austin’s attorney, public defender Anne Watson, said she could not comment on the charges.

Avita Community Partners provides individual and family services for people suffering from mental illness, developmental disabilities and addictions. The nonprofit agency is funded with state and federal money.

Earlier this year, Avita was forced to eliminate 37 positions due to $3.6 million in budget cuts.

Avita said in a statement that in July, the organization found financial discrepancies regarding its summer recreation program funds that Austin coordinated. She was fired and Flowery Branch police were contacted.

“Avita is continuing to cooperate with the Flowery Branch Police Department in their ongoing investigation, and is continuing our review of internal procedures designed to ensure proper management and use of funds,” Avita CEO Joe Rutherford said in a statement.

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer also said school officials are cooperating with police. Austin was an unpaid volunteer coach for the Gainesville High School dance team for at least two years.

Authorities say so far there is no indication that school employees were aware of the scheme.

Asked whether he thinks Austin may have had help, Hulsey said, “that part is under investigation.”

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