Spaniel club's funds swiped

The club's treasurer has been charged. Deputies say she told them she's an online gambling addict.

By HELEN ANNE TRAVIS, Times Staff Writer
Published August 30, 2007

A University of Tampa accounting professor was arrested Tuesday and charged with embezzling more than $100,000 from the American Spaniel Club Inc.

The dog club's treasurer, Barbara Lippincott, 53, faces grand theft charges and is accused of illegally writing herself more than 70 checks from the club's operating fund between July 2006 and March 2007, according to Pasco County sheriff's deputies.

"How could you steal from a cocker spaniel?" wondered Doug Tobin, a spokesman for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

Lippincott needed the money to pay for her online gambling addiction, deputies say she told them. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The American Spaniel Club, established in 1881, sets the national breed standard for cocker spaniels and has more than 400 members throughout the world.

Members estimate Lippincott joined the club around 2000 and became treasurer, an unpaid position, in 2002. The club trusted her with the organization's checkbook to pay bills for dog show expenses and hotel stays.

But, according to deputies, Lippincott wrote the checks to herself, under the guise the money would be used to reimburse club members for legitimate expenses.

"It wiped out our whole operating account," said Linda Moore, attorney for the American Spaniel Club.

The club's operating fund usually contains only $70,000. But during the time Lippincott allegedly embezzled funds, it was hefty with the proceeds from two national dog shows.

The American Spaniel Club not only hosted the shows, but also sold aprons, T-shirts and other cocker spaniel memorabilia. The operating fund was also boosted by annual membership dues accepted during that time, Moore said.

Dues range from $15 to $55, according to the American Spaniel Club's Web site.

Lippincott told deputies she revealed her gambling addiction and embezzlement actions to her husband, Charles, earlier this year. He took her to an attorney in an attempt to resolve the issue, deputies said.

Jane Williams had been president of the American Spaniel Club less than six months when she got a call from Tim Owens, a Tampa attorney, in April. Owens, calling on Lippincott's behalf, told Williams his client had been taking money from the group's operating fund.

On Wednesday Williams attempted to recall the day she got the phone call from Owens.

"I don't know how to describe it," Williams said on the phone from Alabama. "It's worse than anything you could imagine."

Lippincott attempted to work out a repayment plan with the group and settle the matter out of court, her attorney said.

But the group decided to pursue criminal charges. "We didn't think she had the means to pay us back," Williams said.

Lippincott was intelligent and if anything, a little shy, said Kathleen Peterson, secretary of the American Spaniel Club. No one in the group knew anything about a gambling addiction.

"I think everybody liked Barbara," Peterson said Wednesday on the phone from Kentucky. "Everybody thought she shared their goals and interest in the club."

Now members feel betrayed. In January 2008, at the club's annual meeting, members will vote whether to expel their former treasurer from the organization.

Lippincott is on administrative leave from the University of Tampa, where she has worked since 1998, said Eric Cardenas, the university's spokesman. The university has not decided whether she will be paid during her leave.

The Lippincotts lost their Wesley Chapel home, where they had lived from 1993 until March, to foreclosure earlier this month. They currently live in Thonotosassa.

The couple filed for bankruptcy in 2004. Listed in their assets at the time were seven cocker spaniels worth $12,000.

Barbara Lippincott was released from the Land O'Lakes jail Wednesday on $5,000 bail.

Staff writer Thomas Lake and researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Helen Anne Travis can be reached at 352 521-6518 or htravis@sptimes.com.