A Lewisville woman has pleaded guilty Thursday to embezzling $29 million from the charitable foundation and businesses run by the family of late Texas Rep. Jim Collins.
Barbara Chalmers, 74, was a bookkeeper for the family’s companies and admitted that in 2012, she began to fraudulently write herself at least 175 checks that she deposited into her personal accounts. Collins’ descendants and family operated Collins American Capital Corp., International Family Investors LTD and the James M. Collins Foundation. Collins was a Republican congressman who served from 1967 to 1983. He died in 1989.
Chalmers would provide falsified paperwork to tax preparers that misstated the year-end cash-on-hand numbers for the multiple accounts she was embezzling from. She used more than $25 million of the stolen money to fund her construction business, W.O.E. Construction Inc., where she was the president.
She pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison at sentencing, which has not been scheduled yet. The FBI is also investigating the case.
Attorneys for the family and Chalmers have not responded to The Dallas Morning News’ requests for interviews.
Ephraim Wernick, an attorney for the family, said in a statement: “Not only did Ms. Chalmers brazenly abuse the trust the family placed in her, but she also stole millions of dollars from a charitable foundation dedicated to improving the lives and health for so many in need in the Dallas community.”
Court records show that Chalmers held various roles involving financial record-keeping for entities owned by Collins’s descendants and the family itself.
The family discovered the fraudulent activity last year after the death of Collins’ wife, Dorothy Dann Collins Torbert, who had previously owned and managed the family’s corporate entities. When her descendants took over ownership of the family businesses, they reviewed bank statements and identified “several alarming red flags involving Chalmers,” according to a lawsuit they filed against their former bookkeeper in 2021.
The red flags included dozens of unauthorized checks written to Chalmers from various accounts in the two years prior to Torbert’s death totaling more than $5.7 million. But the total theft was significantly larger and involved years of fraudulent activity beginning in 2012.
Chalmers was charged with money-laundering on Dec. 14 before pleading guilty this week.
”Ms. Chalmers’ actions compounded what was already an incredibly difficult time for the family,” Wernick said. “With today’s announcement, the Collins family begins the process of healing, but this is only the first step towards accountability for all those who contributed to this massive fraud.”
Collins headed the Fidelity Union Life Insurance Co., a firm co-founded by his father, before running for Congress. Allianz SE acquired Fidelity Union in 1979.
Buildings at Southern Methodist University and Baylor University Medical Center are named after Collins. Two of his and Torbert’s children, Michael James Collins and Dorothy Collins Weaver, later founded the hedge fund firm Collins Capital Investments.
Staff writer Alexandra Skores and Bloomberg News reporter Madlin Mekelburg