Ex-Cerritos principal indicted for embezzlement - Ahwatukee Foothills News: News

Ex-Cerritos principal indicted for embezzlement

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Posted: Friday, July 30, 2010 11:00 am

A former Kyrene de los Cerritos Elementary School principal has been indicted on felony charges related to embezzling or misusing nearly $55,000 from two Kyrene School District schools.

Janet Thor is accused of diverting $54,791 worth of donations to Cerritos and Kyrene del Cielo, where she had also been a principal, to unauthorized bank accounts and embezzling $33,000 of that money for her own use, according to a special investigation completed by the Arizona Auditor General's Office.

Thor resigned from the district in April 2009, after an internal investigation by Kyrene found she had misused money at Cielo, and voluntarily surrendered her teaching credentials that October. She was indicted on 16 counts of misuse of public monies, two counts of theft and two counts of fraudulent schemes on Monday.

The scheme started in July 2004, when Thor was principal at Cerritos, according to the auditor general's report.

Thor deposited $26,371 worth of donations from a parent group, companies, foundations and other sources into a bank account called the "Kyrene de los Cerritos PTO Office Fund." She eventually took $18,207 for her own use, usually by writing herself checks that were deposited into a personal account, by the time her tenure at Cerritos ended in 2007, according to the report.

At that time, the principal who took over at Cerritos asked the district office about the account. The auditor general's report faults Kyrene for not investigating further at that point, which could have prevented subsequent embezzlement.

District spokeswoman Kelly Alexander said the account was brought to the district's attention at that point, but since it was marked as a parent teacher organization account, it was thought to be a legitimate PTO account that had the principal as a co-signer, Alexander said.

Since parent groups are allowed to have their own accounts, the only thing the district thought was inappropriate at that point was having the principal as a co-signer, she said.

"I understand the red flag comment, but I also understand that would not have been a red flag at that time period," Alexander said.

The PTO was written a check for the remaining $1,200 in the account and it was deactivated.

When she became Cielo's principal, Thor set up an account called the "Kyrene del Cielo Office Fund." She deposited $28,420 worth of donations, diverting $15,733 to herself, between January 2008 and the spring of 2009, according to the report.

This time, an assistant principal told the district she had witnessed money being misused. The district conducted a six-week internal investigation and ultimately recommended an audit, according to the report and Alexander.

When Thor was confronted, she admitted to using Cielo funds for her personal benefit, resigned and agreed to repay $19,000. The district discovered the Cerritos account after Thor negotiated her resignation, according to the report.

Kyrene was faulted for not cutting off Thor's access to the account while it conducted its investigation, but Alexander said that was to ensure Thor was given due process and because the district didn't know the account wasn't authorized at that time.

Kyrene had controls in place at that time that should have prevented the embezzling, but has since improved on those procedures, Alexander said.

"This was done around Kyrene systems and controls. This was an employee, an individual, who made an individual decision," Alexander said. "Sometimes employees make decisions ... that circumvent those controls."

Kyrene has contacted its major donors and requested all large donations be sent to the district office instead of individual schools, Alexander said. Officials are also looking into online systems that will let parents send money to the district office instead of campuses as much as possible - for example, parents already turn in money for middle school sports programs to the district's customer service office instead of individual campuses, Alexander said.

At the district office, roles are segmented and redundancies exist to provide security, Alexander said. For instance, there's one person in charge of purchasing and another in charge of checks.

Kyrene will learn and grow from all of its experiences and works hard to ensure money is spent for its intended purpose, Alexander said.

"We take all of this extremely seriously," Alexander said.

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