Take her away: New York PTA embezzler sentenced

From the Poughkeepsie Journal:

A Town of Poughkeepsie (New York) woman who stole more than $3,000 while serving as treasurer of a local school PTA will spend the next four months in jail for the crime.

Melissa Chapman, 37, of Star Farm Way sobbed Wednesday morning as she was led out of a fourth-floor courtroom in the Dutchess County Courthouse after her sentencing.

Chapman admitted last month that she had embezzled $3,200 from the Cold Spring Elementary School PTA in Stanfordville while she was the group’s treasurer in 2009 and 2010. She entered a guilty plea to grand larceny, a felony.

Chapman brushed aside tears as she told Judge Stephen L. Greller she was sorry for what she did.

“I feel absolutely horrible … I feel sorry for the children I stole from, and it’s affecting my family,” she said. “My kids are being judged for what I did.”

Senior Assistant District  Attorney Edward McLoughlin said Cold Spring PTA members and school officials had told him they were glad Chapman had been convicted of a felony and was being held accountable for her crime.

McLoughlin said school officials  were not asking Greller to send Chapman to jail, but Greller said he believed she deserved some time behind bars.

“You stole, essentially , from kids, and you did it over an extended period of time — this crime took a level of sophistication,” the judge told Chapman.

“You need some time of incarceration,” Greller said. “I need to send a message to those who are in charge of money that is entrusted to them, and you violated that trust.”

The judge then sentenced Chapman to four months in jail, placed her on probation for five years and ordered her to pay back the money she stole.

As Greller spoke, Chapman sobbed loudly and pleaded with him to reconsider the jail term.

But Greller told sheriff’s deputies to escort Chapman from the courtroom.


Would you buy a used online college from this church?

OK. This is a head-scratcher:

A Louisville-based ministry and a large Arizona church are suing each other over the disputed sale of an unaccredited online university last year, each accusing the other of fraud.

The Louisville Courier-Journal outlines the dispute between Child of the King Ministries of Louisville and Church of the Nations in Arizona over the $400,000  of American International University (not to be confused with American InterContintental University). Child of the King claims it hasn’t been paid as per the agreement; Church of the Nations claims that there’s no there there: in other words, the college is not recognized by accrediting agencies and furthermore, no assets were transferred in the sale. Which sounds like they paid $400,000 for a web address. (For a look at the school’s website–for what it’s worth–click here.)

According to the lawsuit filed by Church of the Nations, “Defendants provided plaintiff with nothing, no books, no records, no students, no websites, nothing of any value,” it said. “… To the extent that anything of value was to be given, nothing was.”

But there’s got to be more to the good old AIU than that, right?

Mmm. Not so sure. The shcool lists its administrative offices on Tidwell Drive in Alpharetta, next to Grimes Automotive Machine Shop and Lethal Injection Tuning, where everybody hangs out. AIU’s “regulatory offices” are in the Bahamas and AIU posts a badge on its website from “National Accreditation for Colleges and Schools,” an organization that is based in Atlanta (I’ve been blogging about Georgia colleges for a year, and I’d never heard of that agency before). Even the school’s web address is sketchy: www.aiuedu.us.  Usually the “edu” is the suffix, not tucked into the address in a way that might be interpreted as an attempt to make people think it’s a normal college.

The Courier-Journal reports:

American International University was incorporated in 2001 with the address of 1004 Walnut St. in Jeffersonville, according to records with the Indiana Secretary of State. T.E. and Brian Beckham were among the founding officers. Its stated purpose was as “an academic and spiritual religious educational institute of biblical teachings and related subjects and natural health.”

The name American International University does not turn up in a search of various standard accrediting bodies and government databases of proprietary and higher-education schools in Kentucky, Indiana or Arizona.

Attorney Scott Abell, representing Child of the King, said the ministry had planned to use proceeds from the sale for a substance-abuse counseling program.

“Child of the King Ministries Inc. wishes to emphasize that this is simply a civil dispute between religious entities and does not represent an attack on the good works of the parties,” he said in a statement.

That’s pretty charitable, but Child of the King has already gotten $130,000 out of the deal. Meanwhile, Church of the Nations is out the $130,000 it made as the down payment before balking at paying any more money. And it’s crying foul.

For the record, Child of the King, founded in 1995, promotes a “Messianic Jewish/Orthodox Christian” faith.  Michael Marden, pastor of Church of the Nations, founded in 2003,  claims he founded a church tha grew to thousands of members before the treasurer embezzzled $20 million and ruined him.

And now this.  Just terrible. To read the Courier-Herald article, click here.


Life imitates art: PTA crime wave continues

Update: Read the editorial.

Volunteer groups are susceptible to embezzlement, especially during hard times. It’s an issue in CHAIN GANG ELEMENTARY, and out there in the real world, the latest case comes from New Jersey. Brian Freskos reports in the StarNewsOline:

Embezzlement charges directed against two area women active in parent support organizations that strive to better education underscore the financial vulnerability of volunteer groups when safeguards are lacking or neglected, experts said.

Deputies in New Hanover and Brunswick counties drew warrants earlier this month, accusing the women affiliated with the Sunset Park Elementary PTA and the Lincoln Elementary PTO with stealing thousands of dollars from their groups. Though filed within a day of each other, authorities say the cases are unrelated.

The allegations raised questions about the strengthening of financial protections in an era where experts have noted an anecdotal rise in white-collar crimes. Those interviewed in the past week believe the upswing is at least partially attributable to economic hardship.

Authorities charged Dana Leigh Brooks, 38, with 12 counts of embezzlement over accusations she stole more than $5,000 from Lincoln’s PTO between February and June. She came to the attention of authorities after the group received multiple complaints from parents concerning a recent fundraiser where ordered items were never delivered. Sgt. April Stanley, a spokeswoman for the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, said that when the funds were examined, it was discovered the goods were never paid for and there was a discrepancy in the finances.

Freskos goes on to deal more deeply with the vulnerability of volunteer groups and some of the remedies being pursued. To read more, click here.

Another PTA embezzlement story

This one from Los Angeles has been hanging around a while, and it’s not the only one in La-La land, but it’s a significant amount of money, and the culprit has to pay it back. She was also sentenced to two years in prison. A hundred grand is a lot of license plates.

From the LA Times:

A former Los Angeles Unified School District administrative assistant who admitted stealing money from a Torrance elementary school and PTA funds was ordered Wednesday to pay more than $116,000 in restitution.

Lisa Ann Castro, 47, was ordered by a Superior Court judge to pay $93,400 to the LAUSD and $23,000 to Halldale Elementary School in Torrance, where she worked, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

She pleaded guilty in February to one count of misappropriating public funds.

Prosecutors said Castro stole money from the PTA account and two other school accounts, in part by forging signatures on more than 100 checks.