A former Jasper School District employee pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges. The 55-year-old woman from Columbus, Kansas, was head bookkeeper for the school district from 2009 to 2016. She voluntarily resigned in 2016 after being asked to explain payroll and expenditure discrepancies.
Treacherous financial straits
The Western Missouri district was already struggling financially, but the embezzlement drastically reduced its reserve fund. In an effort to conserve finances the district had switched to a four-day-per-week schedule and eliminated summer school and child care offerings. Although the district’s insurance policy has already reimbursed the school for the embezzlement, the district still faces financial challenges from a reduced taxpayer base and a failed bond issue.
During her tenure with the school district the woman had full control over all of its financial accounts. She used her access to pay herself an extra $80,000 over a three-year period. She also stole $6,000 to pad her retirement account and wrote herself checks totaling $14,000.
In addition to the extra pay, she opened a Home Depot credit card using her business account and made personal purchases of $2,000. Forensic accounting estimates the theft totals close to $145,000.
Investigators discovered the woman would ask other school employees to sign various checks, but when they refused she stamped the checks with employees’ signature stamps anyway.
Pleading guilty to fraud
The woman pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of credit card fraud. Because the fraud crossed state lines she will be prosecuted in federal court. The minimum sentence for wire fraud is 20 years, but the woman is facing up to 35 years in federal prison.
Embezzlement charges, either at a state or federal level, have serious ramifications. Depending on the amount stolen a conviction could result in significant jail time and a hefty fine. Therefore, those charged with embezzlement should clearly understand the possible penalties before simply accepting a plea bargain.