Coordinator: Toys For Tots Drive Nearly Ran Dry As Woman Hoarded - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Coordinator: Toys For Tots Drive Nearly Ran Dry As Woman Hoarded Toys

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The Marine Corps' Toys for Tots holiday gift drive last year nearly fell short of demand at the same time the head of a South Bay foster parent organization was allegedly hoarding thousands of presents, the area coordinator of the Marine program testified today.

Patrick Russ took the stand as a preliminary hearing got under way for Virginia Prieto Kelly, a 74-year-old foster mother charged with grand theft and embezzlement.

Kelly was the president of the Latino Foster Parents Association, which received holiday donations from Toys for Tots and other organizations that held toy drives in the county.

About 11,000 toys donated to Kelly's group were found in three locations, according to the prosecution, which alleges that she enlisted the aid of other people to help sell the items.

Russ said Toys for Tots in San Diego distributed 185,000 gifts in 2008 but still fell short of demand, so he had to use credit from the national organization to purchase more presents at area stores.

"I've never had a year like last year," Russ said.

Toys for Tots sent 1,800 toys to the Latino Foster Parents Association last year, he said.

At the conclusion of the hearing, which continues Friday, Judge Margie Woods will decide whether there is enough evidence to order Kelly to stand trial. The main issue will be whether Kelly engaged in criminal behavior or mismanaged her organization on a colossal scale.

District attorney's Investigator Sal Campos testified that a parent who did not receive promised toys from Kelly complained to the county Health and Human Services Agency, triggering the investigation that led to the discovery of the thousands of gifts, he said.

"They were brand-new toys -- they hadn't been opened at all -- toys children dream of," Campos said.

Investigators also recovered "thousands of clothing items" and blankets that were given by the Polinsky Children's Center as far back as 2006, Campos said.

The investigator said the Latino Foster Parents Association's treasurer, Hilda Fernandez, "was astonished" when she learned that the toys had not been given to needy children.

In a taped interview with Campos in February, Kelly denied that toys were sold on her behalf.

In the tape, which was played in court, the defendant said she always kept some toys on hand in case they fell short in donations the following year.

"I did my best and I thought I was doing good," Kelly said.

She said her organization dealt with about 1,500 foster children who received between 2,000 and 2,500 toys each year.

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