Michelle Hunter Firehouse
A Harvey woman who served as the treasurer for a local chapter of the Red Knights International Firefighter Motorcycle Club was arrested Sept. 11 and accused of stealing more than $72,000 from the group’s 9/11 Memorial Fund.
Susan Leonard-Lewis, 61, was booked with felony theft, said Capt. Jason Rivarde, spokesman for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Leonard-Lewis is accused of stealing from an account set up by the Red Knights’ Jefferson Parish-based Louisiana Chapter 1, President Steve Guillot said. The club used the money to support the families of firefighters killed in the line of duty.
“She didn’t just do this to our club. She did it to the families of fallen firefighters. She did it to the fire departments that support our organization, to the businesses that support our club,” Guillot said.
Leonard-Lewis could not be reached for comment Friday.
She had served as the local club’s treasurer since about 2010.
A T-shirt vendor reached out to Guillot in mid-August to notify him about a bounced check for the club’s biggest fundraiser, its annual 9/11 Poker Run in Westwego.
The most recent treasurer’s report, prepared by Leonard-Lewis in July, showed the club with a healthy $74,000 balance, according to Guillot. But when he went to the bank, he learned that the account contained just $600.
Guillot said Leonard-Lewis admitted she was responsible and told him, “I have a problem.”
Detectives with the Sheriff’s Office Economic Crimes unit determined that Leonard-Lewis had been withdrawing money from the memorial fund, mostly at casinos, Rivarde said. She covered the thefts with elaborately detailed but phony treasurer’s reports that kept members unaware.
Guillot was shocked by the theft but grateful the club made the discovery through a bounced check to a vendor.
“If we had lost a fireman and we couldn’t pay the family,” Guillot said, “I don’t think I could have faced that family.”
Because of their thin bank account, the Red Knights were forced to cancel the 18th annual 9/11 Poker Run. The escorted motorcycle parade, poker round-robin and after-celebration were scheduled to take place on Sept. 14.
Guillot scrambled to pay the band, caterers and businesses who contributed to the event. He’s also been trying to refund any motorcyclists who had already registered for the ride.
“I had to find the money,” Guillot said. “Slowly but surely, we’ve been getting on.”
The club has also found generosity within the firefighting community. The Marrero Estelle Fire Department, where Guillot works, donated $600 to the Red Knights. Another local department donated $2,000.
The Red Knights usually organize a spring Poker Run that benefits Westwego Volunteer Fire Company No. 1. But the department told the Red Knights that the club can keep the proceeds from the upcoming April 4 fundraiser to help get back on their feet, Guillot said.
In the meantime, the club has revamped its money-handling policies and continues to sell $20 T-shirts for the canceled Poker Run.
“We’re not going to go through this again,” Guillot said.