by Brendan M. Lynch | November 01, 2004
On Oct. 7, Darlene Armstrong, 36, the former director of finance at the Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville, Ill., pleaded not guilty to Federal grand jury charges she embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the center between January 2002 and May 2004.
    The indictment claimed Armstrong used her position to “steal, take and convert the cash proceeds” of Gateway’s expositions, conventions and trade shows to buy a Cadillac Escalade, a Ford Thunderbird, a Lexus RX 330 SUV, plasma screen TVs and more.
    Further, Armstrong allegedly cashed Gateway checks made out to herself after forging supervisors’ signatures. While FBI investigators estimated the loss to the Gateway Center to be at least $200,000, the total was still being calculated late last month.
    “We haven’t seen that any exhibitors or customers were defrauded,” said John Bitzer, chairman of the Collinsville Convention Authority, which oversees center operations. “She was stealing strictly Gateway’s cash.”
    As a result of accounting inconsistencies related to the case, Gateway officials said a planned $7 million, 23,500-square-foot expansion of the facility would be delayed until completion of an audit.
    At press time, Armstrong remained free on an unsecured bond; no trial date had been set.