School worker charged in theft

Police say $20,953 was embezzled

Staff WritersMarch 28, 2008 

— Police charged a former Wake County school bookkeeper on Thursday with embezzling $20,953 from field trips, athletic events and other school activities.

Kristie L. Mitchell, 40, of 4352 Pine Springs Court was charged with a felony count of embezzlement, according to a search warrant filed Thursday at the Wake County Magistrate's Office. She is accused of embezzling the money between July 11, 2005, and June 1, 2007, while working at Conn Elementary School and later at Leesville Road Middle School.

Doug Kinney, the school district's senior director of internal audit, said school officials are not certain whether more money is missing.

"There are many missing records," said Kinney, who declined to call Mitchell by name. "The former bookkeeper shredded them. This is our best estimate."

Kinney said the possibility of missing money from Leesville Road Middle School arose in late June during a routine audit that's done whenever a principal leaves a school. Kinney said only one employee is thought to have been involved in the theft.

As bookkeeper, Mitchell collected money turned in to the school and recorded it in the computer system.

Kinney said the audit showed receipts weren't always provided. On other occasions, he said, receipts would be given for the money collected before being deleted from the system. Sometimes, the receipts would be re-entered showing a lower amount, he said.

The money was collected from things such as admission fees, concession stand money and field trips.

Soon after the investigation began, Mitchell resigned from her $29,689-a-year job at Leesville Road. She worked in Wake from November 2003 until June 29, 2007, including time at Conn.

Mitchell could not be reached for comment.

Kinney said he turned over his audit findings to police this month. Mitchell was released Thursday from the Wake County jail, where she posted $10,000 bond, a jail spokesperson said.

Unpaid bills found

Most of the missing money, $19,826, is from Leesville Road Middle School, the audit states. Parents at the school had questioned why the athletic department hadn't received new equipment, which is often paid for with money collected from tickets to events and concession stands.

School officials found unpaid bills in a storage closet at Leesville Road Middle during the investigation. The school district transferred $13,540 to the school late last year to help pay the bills.

"I'm glad they've found this out," said Lisa Boneham, a Leesville Road parent. "Maybe they can put this to rest now and we can move on to other things."

Kinney said the district will actively try to recover the money.

The school district has had other fraud cases, including one in which school transportation employees submitted $4 million in fake invoices. That case led to several fraud-related changes.

Kinney said the latest case has led to reforms in accounting oversight, such as preventing bookkeepers from deleting receipt transactions and requiring area superintendents to periodically review voided receipts.

"If the new measures are implemented fully, the likelihood of someone else doing this sort of thing is reduced," Kinney said.

(News researcher Lamara Williams and staff writer Kinea White Epps contributed to this report.) or (919) 829-4534

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