The Lewiston woman arrested as a suspect in the theft of holiday gift cards from a Gorham church pleaded not guilty in Cumberland County Court last week, authorities said.

Lt. Chris Sanborn of the Gorham Police Department said the suspect, Sarah Runnion-Bareford, 32, was charged with violation of conditions of release, theft and receiving stolen property. ///Runnion-Bareford has apparently been released from Cumberland County Jail as she wasn’t there Tuesday.///

Sanborn and Gorham Detective Sears Edwards arrested Runnion-Bareford on Dec. 3 in Lewiston. Sanborn said police received a complaint at 9:21 a.m. on Nov. 24 from the First Parish Congregational Church that $880 in Hannaford gift cards had been stolen. The gift cards were to provide Thanksgiving dinners for 22 needy families. Church officials believe the gift cards were stolen during the Sunday church service on the previous day.

The church spent $700 at the Hannaford store in Gorham replacing the stolen gift cards. On Tuesday, Gorham Police Chief Ron Shepard and Sanborn presented the Rev. David Butler, pastor at First Parish, with a check for $880 from a police revolving restitution fund to reimburse victims. Shepard told Butler the check “affords you the ability to help other people.”

Butler thanked Gorham police for its work and the check. “It will make a huge difference in the lives of a lot of people over the Christmas holidays,” Butler said.

Last week, Hannaford also reimbursed the church. “They gave us a check for $900,” said Butler, thanking Hannaford.

The church had the receipts and numbers of the gift cards reported stolen. Police believe Runnion-Bareford redeemed the cards at the Hannaford in Lewiston. “We had her on video using them at the Lewiston store,” Sanborn said Tuesday.

Sanborn said Tuesday household items like baking pans and cleaning supplies were purchased with the gift cards. Sanborn said police have recovered most of the items. “We’re holding them as evidence,” he said.

Edwards said last week that he and Sanborn arrested the suspect about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and she was taken to Cumberland County Jail in Portland.

Butler said the suspect is not connected with the church. When shown a photo of Runnion-Bareford by police, Butler said he recognized her as someone by a different name who had sought help from the church.

“We have provided finances to her on a number of occasions in the past,” Butler said.

The church usually limits assistance, Butler said, to Gorham families or accepts referrals from agencies. “We made an exception in her case because she seemed desperate,” Butler said. Butler said the first time she went to the church she got rental assistance. Butler said she then lived in a trailer park in Gray. Butler said the church wrote checks to landlords.

Butler said the woman went to the church for financial assistance four times first in 2005, and received a total of about $355.

Sanborn said police believe the suspect has been “hitting up” other churches for money.

Butler said the woman got help each time she asked at First Parish.

“It’s disappointing because if she came to us and expressed her need she would have gotten help,” Butler said.

Cutline (Gor pol 2)

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