Nobody stole from Girl Scouts at the mall, Woodbridge cops say
WOODBRIDGE — A troop leader's sob story about a theft from Girl Scouts just didn't add up, police now say.
The mother has been removed from her volunteer position after township police concluded that the supposed theft of more than $1,000 from a table at the mall never happened.
Girl Scout Multi Level Troop 80062 made headlines this month when troop leader Jessica Cunha Medina posted on Facebook that an elderly couple had swiped an envelope stuffed with $500 in cash and several checks from cookie sales. The troop had been selling their cookies outside the Boscov's department store at Woodbridge Center mall.
The story outraged people, prompting a businessman who had grown up in the Fords section to offer a donation to cover the loss. The troop also got a check for $1,200 from the TV show "The Talk."
But police on Wednesday said that their investigation did not find any evidence of a theft. They also said Medina's statements to police contained "inconsistencies."
Medina told the press that the theft had been captured on surveillance video.
Police said they reviewed footage but could not see the envelope anywhere on the table, much less its theft.
Medina said on Facebook that a man with an elderly woman had taken the envelope.
Lauren Dipillo, whose goddaughter is a member of the troop, said mall security video captured the image of a nervous-looking man and an elderly woman with a red walker approaching the table and picking up the envelope. She said the man said "let's go, let's go" to the woman as they walked away.
Police said Wednesday that they eventually identified the couple. But after interviewing them, police cleared them of any wrongdoing.
Police said they interviewed Girl Scouts and parents who had been at the Jan. 18 sale at the mall and none of them could remember seeing an envelope of cash on the table. Police said proceeds from sales were being kept in a secure cash box, not an envelope.
Medina then changed her story, police said, saying that the envelope had contained money from other Girl Scouts events. Medina said she had brought the envelope with her that day because she had intended to take it to the bank.
On Tuesday, when police said they confronted Medina with the fact that interviews and video did not back up her story, she speculated that the envelope may have been accidentally thrown in the trash while the scouts cleaned up after the sale.
Police said they closed the case without any arrests or filing any charges.
Medina could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Ginny Marino, the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central & Southern New Jersey, said the organization would return any donations upon request and that they would cooperate with police.
"We are surprised and very saddened at the turn of events," Marino said Wednesday in a prepared statement. "The Girl Scouts of Central and Southern New Jersey expects the highest standards of fiscal responsibility and ethical behavior from our volunteers, in keeping with our mission, our values, and our Girl Scout Promise and Laws."
Before police closed their case, Medina had complained to New Jersey 101.5 that the regional council was keeping donations generated by the story rather than forwarding them to her troop.
Mick Kless, president and CEO of Compliance Education Institute, said the regional council on Wednesday offered to reimburse his $1,200 donation but he declined to take it back.
"Regardless of how the money disappeared, the fact remains that it's gone and I wanted to make the troop whole," he said.
Kless said his check was made out to the Girl Scouts of Central & Southern New Jersey, not the Woodbridge troop, and that it would be used for Council Cares, a program that provides aid to underprivileged girls who want to join the Scouts.
"I thought that was tremendously worthwhile," Kless said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to include the correct name of the troop leader who reported the theft.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.