Barbara Hurdle, president of the Carroll County Players, knew the stage was set for a possible tragedy when police investigated allegations that the group's former treasurer, Arnold Vandervalk, had pocketed more than $23,000 of the drama group's money.
But even after Mr. Vandervalk's arrest Wednesday and his release on personal recognizance by a District Court judge yesterday, the group is struggling to pay off nearly $7,000 in debts and ward off a final curtain call.
"When you are this far in debt, a bake sale just isn't going to do it for you," Ms. Hurdle said yesterday. "Our creditors have been really understanding about the whole situation. [The incident] was all very much a shock to us."
Mr. Vandervalk, of the 100 block of Willis St. in Westminster, is charged with 66 counts of theft.
He allegedly wrote 66 checks to himself -- 40 of which were more than $300 -- from the organization's checking account at Westminster Bank and Trust over a period of two years.
According to court records, he did not pay the theater group's fTC mounting bills and failed to deposit a check for $1,600 into its account. Authorities believe he cashed the check for his personal use.
Mr. Vandervalk also had not paid the group's taxes in two years, Ms. Hurdle told police investigators.
Ms. Hurdle told police that Marcia Bogash, a group member, received a suicide letter from Mr. Vandervalk in late July that said he was sorry for taking the money.
Even though Mr. Vandervalk had threatened suicide to his friends and family -- his son Thomas, also received a letter -- and disappeared for three weeks following the disclosure, neither District Court Judge Joanne Jones nor Prosecutor Gail Kessler objected to Mr. Vandervalk's release yesterday to await his Dec. 11 trial.
"He has no prior record, and he has a stable relationship with the community," said Charlie Fisher, Jr., Mr. Vandervalk's attorney.
"He's known about the investigation since July and has not gone anywhere. The court felt that there was no reason to think he would leave now," Mr. Fisher said.
Mr. Vandervalk lived on the money "for two years due to his failing business," court records said.
"Nobody really knew what his business was at all," said Ms. Hurdle.
She thought he was self-employed and may have invested in other businesses.
"He was a good friend, an integral part of the group, but we had to go to the police. There was nothing else we could do," she said.
Now all the group can do, Ms. Hurdle said, is to go ahead with their planned performances, one of which begins this weekend.
The Carroll Players' dinner theater production of "On Golden Pond" will begin a three-weekend run tonight at the Frock's Sunnybrook Farms on Bond Street despite the $4,000 outstanding bill the company has with the restaurant.
"They have been so good letting us continue to have our shows there," Ms. Hurdle said of Frock's proprietor Gene Frock, and his sister Erma Groft.
"And that's why we feel so bad about it," she said. "We have never been in debt before. Our creditors are local people, small people, and we feel bad about not being able to pay them."
Mr. Frock said yesterday that he became suspicious of Mr. Vandervalk's dealings because he never received a check after the treasurer promised to pay the restaurant money that the group owed during the summer.
But Mr. Frock said he understands the situation and knows the Carroll Players well enough to give the group time to pay off their bill.
"I've known half the people on the board of the group since before there ever was a Carroll Players," said Mr. Frock. "They were people who trusted me when I needed help, so I have no problem with helping them."
The group needs all the help it can get at this point, Ms. Hurdle said.
"We have had very little paid publicity for our shows, and we are trying to keep costs low," said Ms. Hurdle.
She said the group's next two projects, a children's theater in November and a performance of "Absurd Person Singular" in March 1993, will go on as scheduled.
"But it's going to take at last two or three really good shows to put a dent in our debt," she said.