WEST CHESTER – Sometime in 2010, Jared B. Harrison started cashing checks written to him from the Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines - checks for hay, checks for feed, as referenced in the their notations.
The trouble was, Harrison was not a farmer, a grower, a feed producer, or any other purveyor of agricultural products. Rather, he was the boyfriend of the farm’s financial controller, Sarah Susanna Barnshaw, who was at the time in the process of illegally draining its bank accounts of several thousand dollars.
On Tuesday, Harrison, 31, of Limerick, pleaded guilty in Common Pleas Court to charges of receiving stolen property, specifically the $11,177 in cash that Barnshaw funneled to him during her employment at the farm in South Coventry, which cares for aging and infirm horses.
He was sentenced to six to 23 months in Chester County Prison by President Judge James P. MacElree II as part of a plea agreement fashioned by Deputy District Attorney Mark Conte, who prosecuted the case, and Harrison’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Stewart Paintin.
Paintin urged MacElree to accept the agreement, after the judge questioned why Harrison should be given a relatively short sentence involving the theft of a rather sizeable amount of money from a nonprofit organization. He said that Harrison, while admitting his involvement, was nowhere nearly as culpable in the scheme as Barnshaw, and that he profited only a fraction of the amount that she did from the thefts.
“I think she used him to funnel the money back into her own accounts,” Paintin said.
Harrison somewhat reluctantly, agreed, saying that he largely didn’t ask questions of Barnshaw when she proposed the check-cashing arrangement, and let Barnshaw have the use of most of the money. He said she took about $8,000 of the $11,000 he received.
“It wasn’t my business,” he said while standing before MacElree in handcuffs. “It was implied that it wasn’t my money.”
According to statements at the court proceeding and court records, between 2010 and 2011 Barnshaw wrote 18 checks made out to Harrison for various amounts, all signed by her and carrying the notation that the checks were payment for certain items needed at the farm.
She would give the checks to Harrison and he would deposit them in his checking account, to which Barnshaw had access through a debit card, he said.
The scheme ran aground when officials at the horse farm noticed financial irregularities in its bank accounts and called in state police and independent auditors to investigate in 2012. Barnshaw was fired in February of that year. She was arrested in February 2014 and charged with multiple counts of theft and credit card fraud. Authorities say she stole in excess of $40,000. She is currently awaiting trial before MacElree.
In a statement to police on April 18, 2012, Gail Morris, secretary for the Ryerss Farm board of directors, said Barnshaw was in charge of finances for the farm but she was fired for “a considerable decline in work performance with respect to paying bills of the organization in an appropriate time frame.”
Morris told police that after looking at the financial records, she found several “questionable” credit card accounts with very high balances while other accounts showed very low balances. It was that discovery that launched the police investigation, police said.
After several search warrants were approved to look at accounts with National Penn Bank, TD Bank, Staples Corp. and Citi-Bank, police discovered Barnshaw allegedly took $44,940.36 during her tenure at the farm.
Police said Barnshaw used the accounts to give herself cash, pay bills, pay rent, send money to a former roommate, open credit cards, buy gift cards to restaurants and department stores, and purchase electronics.
Harrison has been held in county prison on the receiving stolen property charges since his arrest in February. He will be eligible for parole in August.