The former treasurer of the Monte Vista Elementary School PTO faces an initial Superior Court appearance Oct. 1 on two felony charges accusing her of embezzling $61,438 through four different schemes between August 2017 and May 2019.
The County Attorney’s office two weeks ago charged Jeani Marie Crosson of Maricopa with one count of theft and one count of fraud schemes following a 10-month investigation by Phoenix Police.
Less than two months after she became treasurer on June 1, 2017, police and court records say, Crosson began her alleged schemes and they continued up through mid-May of last year a few weeks before all new PTO officers took over at the Ahwatukee school on June 1, 2019.
Like all PTOs, the Monte Vista group raises its own money through a variety of activities and does not receive any district money. PTOs also are independent organizations and their records are not under the purview of district headquarters or the school principal.
The alleged schemes outlined by police are:
• Between Aug. 10, 2017, Crosson allegedly made bank teller withdrawals totaling $7,754.
• Between Aug. 31, 2017, and May 20, 2019, she allegedly used a PTO debit card to make “multiple unauthorized purchases” totaling $3,601 that included merchandise from Amazon and at least one home water bill.
• Between Aug. 30, 2017, and May 6, 2019, she allegedly made unauthorized withdrawals with her PTO debit card totaling $35,985. Police records say many of the withdrawals were for $500 and $1,000 at a time.
• Between Sept. 8, 2017, and May 16, 2019, she allegedly failed to deposit $14,098 in cash into the PTO account.
Crosson, who is free pending her initial court appearance, also was a Southwest Food Service cook in the Monte Vista cafeteria during at least part of the alleged crimes.
In May 2018, she launched a gofundme.com fundraiser to raise enough money to buy a car for a Monte Vista crossing guard whose three children were students at the school. The crossing guard’s car had numerous problems that were beyond repair.
Parents learned of the crossing guard’s plight and one mother donated a used car to the guard that had been owned by a relative who passed away.
Crosson’s alleged schemes began unraveling shortly after the new PTO officers took over, police records show.
Police records say the new treasurer began trying to reconcile the organization’s records and “discovered a huge discrepancy” totaling $26,000.
Quoting the new treasurer, police records say, “the banking records were supposed to be documented on a Quicken spread sheet. However, the records were ‘uncategorized and out of character.’”
The treasurer also discovered there were two Quicken spread sheets for the PTO account, adding to the discrepancies because “numerous transactions had been deleted,” investigative reports state.
The PTO’s records also showed a host of unauthorized charges to the organization’s debit card that was assigned to Crosson, police said in one of their reports. A second debit card issued to the then-president was never activated.
Police records show the new treasurer discovered that “funds had been withdrawn from the (PTO) account during the summer months when school was not in session and when the PTO was not active.”
The treasurer then “briefly confronted” Crosson in text messages in late May 2019, police records state, and Crosson said “she was having problems with the Quicken spreadsheet (and) therefore had to start a second Quicken spread sheet.”
The new treasurer also told police it appeared “that Jeani was trying to avoid making comments about the account,” records state.
Other records show that Crosson and her husband had encountered financial difficulties long before she became a PTO officer.
In 2014, the couple filed for bankruptcy, claiming $163,842 in debt that included $79,000 in student loans that ultimately were not discharged.
Superior Court records show that the National Collegiate Student Loan Trust in July 2018 sued the couple for $35,000 in unpaid loans and the case remains active.
The new PTO officers who took over in June 2019 were devastated when they discovered they had no money.
Co-Vice President Robin Barrett told AFN back then, “Ultimately, children are the victims when financial integrity is in question. Now more than ever we need the support of our parents, community and local businesses.”
They also discovered there were no internal controls used by their predecessors and instituted various measures to ensure financial transparency and accountability.
In a joint statement at the time, the new officers said, Board members also said, “We have inherited this PTO and are frustrated and upset with these findings.
“We even considered resigning in light of the discoveries, but each of us has volunteered at this school to raise money for teacher grants, school beautification projects, reading wall, scholastic book fairs, annual events loved most of all by our children and realize that the PTO plays an integral role in making these events and activities happen.
“We volunteer because we want our students to thrive and have a positive experience at Monte Vista.”
There has been no reported theft of this magnitude in Kyrene since 2010, when a former principal was arrested on multiple felony charges for embezzling or misusing nearly $55,000 from Cerritos and Cielo elementary schools.
Local businesses and parents rallied to the PTO’s aid and before the end of 2019, the organization was back in the black.
Asked about the filing of charges, Barrett told AFN in an email:
“We are pleased the case is moving forward and will wait to see what happens in court.”
Police reports indicated the PTO asked detectives to charge Crosson and take her to court.
Given the closure of campuses since March, Barrett said, “We are supporting the Monte Vista admin, teachers and staff on an ‘as needed’ basis. To compare how our PTO is supporting our community compared to last year, there is a fraction of what has to be done since all events have been cancelled until further notice.”
The PTO hung large spirit banners on the school fence “to lift spirits,” Barrett said, and sold spirit shirts to help raise money as schools in the district begin a gradual reopening. Students in kindergarten through second grade had the option to return to classrooms last week and this week, kids in third-fifth grades can come back beginning Thursday.
The Monte Vista PTO has created Takeout Tuesdays, Barrett said, through partnerships with local restaurants.
“We are so grateful for the local business support,” Barrett said, adding that the district also is raising money through purchases people make at Fry’s, AmazonSmile, Tuft & Needle and American Furniture Warehouses and that “BoxTops is still a good way for us to earn money.”
Still she added, “The fundraising is nothing compared to last year but any amount helps. We have used the funds to purchase personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.”
The PTO also partnered last year with APEX Leadership, which coordinates events built around positive messaging for kids concerning physical fitness, character development and leadership.
It culminated last November with an obstacle course peppered with unusually shaped or oversized slides, monkey bars and other inventions that are as much about having fun as they are about instilling leadership qualities and a commitment to physical fitness.
The partnership with APEX this year is virtual, which Barrett said “allows us to fundraise while staying safe and at the same time have a fun and interactive dance party. Being virtual means we keep another 5 percent of all funds raised, which is an added bonus. We are so grateful for our partnership with APEX."