LAKE PLACID — Police investigating fraud allegations against a local merchant have begun looking into her Christmas charity work, just in case.
“My hope is that we find nothing,” Lake Placid Police Chief James Fansler said Monday. “My hope is that everything is above board. I’m hoping no one would do that in our community.”
Shannan Marie Towell, former owner of Wagon Wheel Design Co. and current owner of Cranky Frank’s BBQ, is facing allegations of writing $2,730 total in unfunded checks to a vendor for her barbecue restaurant. She’s also alleged to have not delivered purchased floral arrangements to customers of the florist shop.
Fansler points out the new florist owners are not connected to Towell’s case in any way.
Towell is also known in Lake Placid as the organizer of last year’s “Give a Family a Christmas” holiday dinner and Christmas tree auction. It raised funds for Christmas gifts to needy families, one from each local public school. At the time, Fansler served as tree auctioneer and helped select the recipient families.
Fansler said, given the scope of the fraud cases against Towell, police are also looking into that fundraiser. So far, he said he’s found nothing “concrete” to cast any doubt.
Earlier reports stated her original bounced check total was $4,000, but Fansler said the actual total was $2,729.95.
Fansler has also addressed rumors circulating the town, such as her $2,730 in bounced checks being just a bank error.
“That is the defense that she was using during her (police) interview,” Fansler said, “but it was not consistent with the information that we have.”
Another rumor held that Towell’s daughter had written the checks.
“To my knowledge, we’ve heard nothing about the daughter being involved,” Fansler said. “All the checks were signed by Ms. Towell.”
Towell faces charges of third-degree grand theft, fraud and issuing worthless checks in the barbecue restaurant case, and a charge of felony fraud and three counts each of misdemeanor theft and fraud in the florist case.
Fansler is still seeking information from people in the community, but also is fielding concerns from people who know both him and Towell personally. He said that’s typical of cases like this in close-knit places like Lake Placid and Highlands County.
“It is an unfortunate situation. We considered them friends, doing good things in our community,” Fansler said. “Eventually, you end up arresting people you consider friends.”