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Dark Christmas Turns White for Calif Mortgage Company

Gifts for abused children stolen from Sacramento mortgage company

December 30, 2003

By COCO SALAZAR


While the Grinch may have tried to spoil Christmas for a group of abused children and the mortgage company whose employees had collected gifts for them, local media and the community enabled the story to have a happy ending.

The Saturday before Christmas, Vitek Mortgage Group employees were devastated when they found out the gifts they had gathered to donate to 42 abused children had been stolen, said Laura Black, an employee of the Sacramento-based mortgage company and organizer of the toy drive. But, thanks to immediate coverage of the incident by a local news station, dozens of inspired Californians made the story unfold into Vitek's "own little miracle."

"I was literally on the floor, unable to breathe," said Black, describing her reaction when she and her manager discovered the theft Saturday morning. Each had taken their daughters to Vitek with intentions of delivering the presents to the Sacramento Children's Home to show their daughters the "wonderful lesson of Christmas." Instead, the girls witnessed a "horrible" wrongdoing.

The Grinch-like thief was not far away. According to the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, Catherine Lynch, 34, was arrested at her residence -- located across the street from Vitek -- and booked into the county jail on grounds of burglary on Christmas Eve. Sgt. Lou Fatur said the woman is in custody and will remain in jail if she cannot afford to pay a $25,000 bail bond. Officials found 20 of the stolen gifts in her house.

"It was good to get her in custody prior to Christmas and get some of those toys in good hands of the children," said Fatur.

photo of employee
Laura Black

Black said she left work Friday just minutes before Lynch allegedly went to Vitek identifying herself as the Children's Home volunteer who would pick up the gifts. Employees even offered to help her load the gifts, but Lynch refused. As soon as the lobby was clear of employees, over an hour of taped footage showed Lynch dragging the gifts -- $5,000 to $7,000 worth -- to the elevators and out the front door, according to Black. Once outside, Lynch loaded some of the gifts onto a shopping cart and was gone for an interval of about 15 minutes. She came back and allegedly finished stealing them after a total of three rounds.

Although the issue is still being investigated, Black said Lynch had done voluntary work for Children's Home last year and that this year she volunteered for two hours at a toy distribution center where donations were received and logged in for inventory, which was apparently enough time to access information about Vitek's donations.

But after all, it "turned around to the greatest Christmas of all, a memory that everyone involved will forever carry," said Black.

Black said that the flock of gifts Californians sent in reaction to the incident included a $5,000 donation by a man from Stockton; Sacramento Kings shirts and hats from a representative of the sports team; Guitars from a woman who looked at the Children's Home Web site and found out the center had a music program; and dozens of gift cards with values between $10 to $75.

Children's Home communications manager, Chris White, said the 136-year-old shelter serves over 3,500 children and that the donations provided all 1,800 children in its Holiday Giving programs with a gift and that many are left over for future holidays and causes. Donations were still arriving at the shelter at the time of the interview Monday and Black said this was the case at Vitek too.

"It's been overwhelming and amazing to see how many people want to make sure our children have a great Christmas," said White. "This is just another example of how when we say we need some help, this community really jumps on board."


Vitek Employee Donations
stolen gifts
Vitek Community Donations
community donations

Coco Salazar is an assistant editor and staff writer for MortgageDaily.com.

email: [email protected]


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