By Nathan Baker
A former elementary school bookkeeper admitted in Carter County Criminal Court Tuesday falsifying financial records and stealing thousands of dollars from checks written for school activities and fundraisers.
Tabitha Street, the bookkeeper at Valley Forge Elementary School from 2009 to 2011, pleaded guilty to theft over $1,000 and official misconduct in front of Circuit Court Judge Robert Cupp, admitting she intentionally did not record checks written to the school into the system’s computerized accounting system, and later removed cash from school deposits and used the unrecorded checks to replace the cash in an attempt to cover her tracks.
As part of her plea bargain, she agreed to a three-year sentence; on June 21, the judge will determine how much jail time or probation she will serve.
The embezzlement came to light in 2012 after discrepancies were noticed in the school’s financial records and the state comptroller’s office was called in to conduct a full audit.
The audit implicated Street’s accounting practices and calculated that more than $8,000 was missing from Valley Forge’s coffers from school photograph payments, yearbook collections and the school’s book fair in 2010.
The auditors found that more than $2,000 was also missing from the school’s gourmet fundraiser in 2009 and candy sale in 2010.
Street was indicted in June 2012 by a Carter County grand jury on the charges to which she pleaded guilty Tuesday.
Public defender Melanie Sellers, Street’s court-appointed attorney, said her client decided to take the plea bargain instead of facing a trial, but said the district attorney would have had trouble proving the amount cited by the state audit in court.
“In the audit by the state there were several instances of mistakes made, for instance a grandparent would write a check for their grandchild’s school pictures, but they had different last names, so auditors couldn’t find the record of the payment for that child,” Sellers said. “It would not have been easy for the state to try her on that amount.”
Judge Cupp ordered Street to pay $50 in fines, plus court fees and contribute money to the public defenders fund.
She will also be required to pay $500 of restitution to the school to cover the system’s insurance deductible. The rest of the missing funds were paid by the insurance company.