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Police in South Bend, Indiana, are investigating the possible embezzlement of funds that led to the abrupt cancellation of the River-Con comics and gaming convention.
A brief message posted Feb. 21 on the event’s Facebook page announcing the cancellation and assuring vendors and Kickstarter supporters they “will be fully reimbursed” doesn’t hint at the circumstances surrounding the move. For those, you have to turn to a local news report and the Facebook page of the South Bend Gaming Association, a group formed last year to organize the planned April 19 show.
According to WSBT TV, police were contacted shortly after the SBGA reportedly received a message from its former president on Feb. 12 admitting to embezzling $1,300. According to the group’s Facebook page, the former president — identified in a subsequent post as Erica Warren — resigned her position, “offered to replace this missing money and expressed hope that River-Con will continue to take place as planned.” SBGA members instead decided unanimously to turn the matter over to police.
Attempts this morning by ROBOT 6 to contact Warren by phone, email and Facebook were unsuccessful. However, on the convention’s Kickstarter page, an SBGA member posted what’s purported to be the message sent by Warren. In it, she explains the money was used for medical bills — “It’s not a valid reason,” she acknowledged — and stated she can borrow against her 401k plan to repay the funds.
Warren launched the Kickstarter campaign in October, generating $4,000 — twice the original goal — to help pay for the one-day event. The final figure, minus fees, amounted to $3,502.70, reports the SBGA, which notes the former president “was the sole keeper of SBGA finances,” including Kickstarter funds. The personal Facebook page Warren linked to the campaign appears to have been deleted.
From there, it gets even messier. The SBGA issued statements saying its current members have no access to any of the money raised — or can even say for sure how much was taken — and are no longer affiliated with River-Con, its contracts or its social media pages (the cancellation notice on the River-Con Facebook page is signed by Justin Warren, Erica Warren’s husband). On Feb. 17, SBGA Acting President Molly Bush acknowledged that, “Handling this mess has been very overwhelming, confusing for even myself and sometimes downright hurtful,” before she tried to untangle some of the details.
“The SBGA Inc. and River-Con Kickstarter were set up by Erica Warren,” she wrote. “She personally asked people to be involved in these projects under her direction. She referred to us as ‘The Board’ and we continued under that reference. Those of us involved in the planning of River-Con and SBGA events were doing so as volunteers. We were not named officers legally though we were referred to that way by Erica and some of us pleaded with her to file articles of incorporation giving other members legal decision-making rights so that she was not solely responsible for everything. Clearly, this never happened and it was for reasons none of us were made aware of until last Wednesday. If she had given us decision making rights, we would have had the ability to prevent this from happening or at least catch it much sooner. […] We have all the documents to verify that Erica Warren is solely responsible for this organization and those documents have been shown to the police.”
With that, Bush said she and other members would stop posting on the SBGA Facebook page, fearing continuing to do so might create further confusion. She instead referred questions to the South Bend Police Department and Warren.