Ambrose enters pre-trial diversion

Nancy Ambrose

HOLMES BEACH – Nancy Ambrose has entered into a pre-trial diversion contract which she must successfully complete for two third-degree felony charges to be dismissed regarding her butterfly garden fundraising activities.

Ambrose was arrested in May and charged with three third-degree felonies; scheming to defraud, operating an unlicensed charity and solicitation as a charity without authorization.

The scheme to defraud charge was dismissed in August.

The arrest warrant issued by the Holmes Beach Police Department alleged unauthorized expenditures for plants, fencing, insect killer, hose nozzles, trimmer line, a sprinkler timer, and items that could not be attributed to the butterfly garden, including a toilet seat.

The warrant also stated two Holmes Beach residents complained to the city in January 2017 about checks given to Ambrose that never resulted in the promised memorial bricks being installed.

Filed with the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court on Jan. 5, the pre-trial diversion contract gives Ambrose 30 days to pay the city of Holmes Beach $17,017 for the restoration of the butterfly garden.

The payment will be made from the Ambrose-controlled Manasota North American Butterfly Association (NABA) bank account that had a $44,243 balance in December 2016, according to the arrest warrant. The remaining funds are to be turned over to the North American Butterfly Association’s national organization in New Jersey.

In 2008, Ambrose entered into an agreement with the city of Holmes Beach authorizing her to create and maintain a butterfly garden on the south end of the city hall property. Due to the lack of maintenance, the butterfly garden was abandoned in mid-2016 and converted to a memorial garden maintained by the city.

City officials are aware of these recent developments, but have not yet discussed the potential restoration of the butterfly garden.

Using her own money, Ambrose must pay the city $1,000 for the installation of the remaining memorial bricks and $200 to cover the cost of the police department investigation. She must also pay the State Attorney’s Office $100 for the cost of prosecution.

The pre-trial diversion contract conditions include monthly reports to a probation officer; the 12-month contract can be terminated in six months if all conditions are met. The agreement is not accompanied by a plea of innocence or guilt, but does alleviate the need for a trial.

Sabine Musil-Buehler butterfly memorial
The Sabine Musil-Buehler butterfly memorial – Cindy Lane | Sun

When contacted Saturday, Ambrose said she had no comment on the case. She did, however, respond to a question about the Sabine Musil-Buehler memorial formerly located in the butterfly garden.

She said the memorial was moved to a friend’s home before she was arrested, and it’s up to city officials to determine if it will be returned to its former location.

Garden affairs

Police Chief Bill Tokajer issued a press release on the day of Ambrose’s arrest.

“The defendant repeatedly obtained money by holding fundraiser arts and craft fairs and selling bricks for the garden. The money raised was supposed to be for the care and upkeep of the butterfly garden. The defendant has also used some of the money obtained for personal gain, as documented in the bank records. A review of the bank records showed Ambrose would receive approximately $3,500 dollars a year in donations from arts and craft fairs held on the Island,” Tokajer’s press release said.

“The defendant has been operating a charity using the NABA name and saying she is president of the Manasota chapter. It was found the Manasota chapter had been dissolved by the founder, Connie Hudson, in 2011,” the warrant said.

The press release also said the Manasota chapter was never registered as a charity with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.