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Elizabeth Sprince

SALEM, N.H. — A woman arrested while collecting money for a fake charity Christmas Eve said she did it to buy food and holiday gifts for her children, police said.

Elizabeth Sprince, 31, of Derry was arraigned yesterday in Salem District Court. She was arrested Thursday outside Dunkin' Donuts at 378 S. Broadway, where she, another woman and three children were collecting money for an event she called the "Polar Plunge," police said.

The Penguin Plunge is an annual event held at Hampton Beach in which participants take a dip in the icy Atlantic Ocean to raise money for Special Olympics.

Officer Chad Clark, who is familiar with the event, knew it was called the Penguin Plunge, not Polar Plunge, and questioned Sprince and the woman about the donations they were accepting.

The women had a silver box with "Special Olympics" written in black marker on the side. They said they were raising money to pay the entrance fee for the plunge but didn't have any documents showing they registered for the event, according to Clark's affidavit.

The women eventually admitted they were raising the money for themselves so they could buy food and Christmas gifts for their children, the affidavit said.

"We really want to give to the Special Olympics, but our intentions were not to do that today," Sprince told police. "We were going to use the money to buy food and stuff, and then pay it back when it was time to pay the entrance fee. I'm sorry."

Only $10 was inside the silver tin, but an additional $134.30 was found in a grocery bag concealed by Sprince's young daughter, the affidavit said. The daughter told police her mother instructed her to hide the money in her jacket.

They collected money from about 9 a.m. until about 1 p.m., and people appeared to make generous donations, a Dunkin' Donuts assistant manager told police.

Sprince was charged with theft by deception and initially held on $1,000 bail. Bail was set at $500 during her arraignment yesterday morning in Salem District Court. She was being held in the Rockingham County jail.

Sprince is scheduled to appear in court Jan. 25. No charges were filed against the second woman.

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