Pierce County sheriff’s deputies were investigating a 35-year-old woman suspected of stealing nearly $8,000 from the Graham Elementary School PTA.
The Graham woman, who has yet to be charged with a crime, served as treasurer of the PTA during the 2007-08 school year.
The woman’s fellow PTA officers referred the case to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department last October. An outside auditor who reviewed the PTA’s books last summer found $7,740 missing.
“That’s what we can prove, but there’s probably more,” said PTA president Lyn Turner.
Turner said most of the money was diverted from fundraisers and other events instead of going into the PTA’s bank account. Money was also withdrawn for petty cash on several occasions without being reimbursed, Turner said.
The PTA audit found several checks signed with forged signatures, as well as checks written out to the former treasurer’s sister, according to PTA records.
Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said the unauthorized checks to the woman’s sister led investigators to believe she was involved in wrongdoing.
“That put us on the trail,” Troyer said.
Deputies have since forwarded the case to prosecutors, who will determine whether to file charges.
For members of the Graham Elementary PTA, the theft created some serious problems at the start of the 2008-09 school year, said Sarah Bell, the PTA’s 2008-09 treasurer. The group started the year with a loss of $2,837 carried over from the previous school year.
But according to last year’s audit, the PTA should have started the new school year with $5,300 in the black.
To cope, the PTA cut its programs by 40 percent across the board. That included funding for field trips, school plays and community service projects, Bell said.
“It’s so discouraging,” Bell said. “It represents so many volunteer hours out of people’s busy lives. There was no respect for what that money represents.”
Often the missing money came from student-centric events, such as a Halloween Night, when students bought tickets to participate in carnival-style activities.
In another case, $2,362 went missing from Holiday Family Day, when kids purchased small items from the PTA to give their parents for Christmas.
“It really is taking cash from the kids,” Turner said.
The group has since cleaned up its books, with officers accounting for all cash and reviewing bank statements and copies of checks every month, Turner said. A letter went out to students’ families in October 2008 informing them of the missing money.
“We are confident this temporary setback will not compromise our future,” the letter said.
The Sheriff’s Department forwarded the theft case to prosecutors about a month ago, but the prosecutor’s office has yet to review it, said Lisa Wagner, head of the office’s white-collar crime unit.
Once prosecutors have time to review the case, they will determine whether to press charges, Wagner said. She said she couldn’t say when that will be.
A case that sits for one month “is not old by any standard,” Wagner said.
“You have to understand how many cases come in here,” Wagner said. “We try to make sure that every victim has their day in court and suspects are held accountable, but it does create a bit of a backlog.”
PTA members are eager to see the person responsible for the misappropriation brought to justice, Turner said.
“We know we probably won’t get any money back,” Turner said. “We want her to be held accountable.”
The News Tribune is not naming the woman because she hasn’t been charged with a crime.
Melissa Santos: 253-552-7058