A Gold Hill woman who has spearheaded efforts to raise money for the family of a Central Point boy who nearly drowned in an irrigation ditch was arraigned Tuesday on fraud and identity theft charges unrelated to her fundraising efforts.

A Gold Hill woman who has spearheaded efforts to raise money for the family of a Central Point boy who nearly drowned in an irrigation ditch was arraigned Tuesday on fraud and identity theft charges unrelated to her fundraising efforts.

In Jackson County Circuit Court Tuesday, Brenda R. Kessler, 29, pleaded not guilty to two counts each of identity theft and fraudulent use of a credit card. The charges stem from a Medford police investigation into a report about two instances of unauthorized use of a credit card last spring, court records indicate.

Kessler said Tuesday she will fight to prove her innocence and she hopes her legal problems won't deter people from donating to the Luke Baehne Fund she helped set up at Washington Mutual.

Bank officials confirmed the account exists, but couldn't provide additional details about it, such as who can access the money. Kessler said only Luke's parents, Phillip and Crystal Baehne, can tap from the account, although anyone can make deposits.

As the mother of a child with epilepsy, Kessler said she felt compelled to help the Baehnes after Luke, who has autism, strayed from a special education classroom at Jacksonville Elementary School and fell in a nearby irrigation ditch.

Kessler said she and her family collected $277 for the Baehnes at Ray's Food Place in Jacksonville over the weekend, but since the criminal charges she faces have come to light, she is scaling back such events.

In addition to the charges she now faces, she pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree forgery in 2006, although a charge of attempted first-degree theft in the same case was dismissed as part of a plea deal. Charges of negotiating a bad check and second-degree theft filed in a case investigated by the Jackson County Sheriff's Department were dismissed in June.

Kessler currently faces two open small-claims cases in Jackson County Circuit Court and has a string of civil suits, including money actions and evictions, dating back to 1999.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.