Former Harbor House executive director charged with theft

The criminal complaint alleges Chelsea Branley pocketed cash rent and used Harbor House credit cards for unauthorized personal expenses.

Douglas County Courthouse, Superior, Wisconsin.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

SUPERIOR — The former director of Harbor House Crisis Shelters made an initial appearance in Douglas County Circuit Court Wednesday, April 5.

Chelsea Anne Branley, 33, of Superior, faces felony counts of theft in a business setting, fraudulent writing and unauthorized use of an entity’s identifying information for documents. She is accused of spending more than $46,000 of Harbor House funds on unauthorized expenses and pocketing nearly $40,000 in cash rent payments to the nonprofit from 2019 to 2022, according to the criminal complaint.

Branley, Chelsea.jpg
Chelsea Branley
Contributed / Douglas County Jail

A $10,000 signature bond was set for Branley. She was ordered to have no contact with Harbor House properties, its current director, or Faith United Methodist Church. Branley, who told Court Commissioner Rebecca Lovejoy that she intended to get an attorney, waived the time limit for her preliminary hearing.

Harbor House Crisis Shelters, a ministry of Faith United Methodist Church, offers emergency shelter, a transitional living center, permanent supportive housing and services for women and families in Superior. Branley served as executive director of the nonprofit from July 2019 until November 2022 when she resigned. Financial discrepancies were discovered at Harbor House following her resignation and were investigated by Superior Police Detective Sean Holmgren, according to the criminal complaint.

The Superior woman allegedly purchased more than $10,000 of personal items — including an electric scooter, clothing, computer accessories, books and jewelry — on an Amazon account using the Harbor House credit card. The items were sent to her home, not to Harbor House. Additional unauthorized purchases Holmgren uncovered included a week-long rental at a Superior hotel for Branley’s boyfriend, according to the complaint.


The former Harbor House director was responsible for collecting rent for the permanent supportive housing and transitional living center. Records from 2021 and 2022 showing how many people lived there and how much rent should have been collected indicated that $39,955 was unaccounted for, the complaint said. Staff at Harbor House told Holmgren that Branley encouraged tenants to pay cash for rent, then never provided a receipt, contrary to the nonprofit’s policy.

Looking over several hundred pages of receipts with voucher/reimbursement forms that Branley submitted as business expenses, Holmgren found more than $46,000 was spent on unauthorized personal expenses, including clothing, groceries, tools, furniture, cell phone bills, a nonexistent conference and gift cards.

When the detective interviewed Branley on Friday, March 31, she reportedly admitted putting her boyfriend up at a hotel with the Harbor House credit card and purchasing items on Amazon. She also admitted she took cash from guests and pocketed the money due to the lack of record keeping, but said it was only $5,000 or so, not $40,000.

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As reported by Douglas County Circuit Court.
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Branley reportedly told Holmgren that there was not much financial oversight at the nonprofit, and that she had never seen the written financial policy for Harbor House until the detective showed it to her. She admitted she took matters into her own hands, the criminal complaint said.

Current Harbor House Executive Director Krystal Brandstatter released statements from the nonprofit and Faith United Methodist Church on Wednesday, April 5.

"The mission and ministry of Harbor House Crisis Shelter has not changed nor wavered, as we have continued to faithfully serve women and families through the last four years, 2019-2022, despite the huge financial setback," she wrote.

Harbor House, which operates separately from the church, has identified and put in place standards and procedures to prevent anything like this from happening again, according to the release.

The statement from the church supported the continued mission of Harbor House, which fills a need in the community.


"We see lives changing through this program," the church statement said.

"Faith United Methodist is committed to helping make the lives for those who are broken better and more whole through this and our other ministries ... We invite you to pray with us for HHCS, the staff and that Ms Branley can receive the help she needs."

Each of the charges is a class H felony, punishable by up to six years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. Branley’s next court appearance was set for May 3, with a status conference the day before to check if she was able to retain an attorney.

This story was updated at 10:40 a.m. April 6 with statements from Harbor House Crisis Shelters and Faith United Methodist Church. It was originally posted at 3:30 p.m. April 5.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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