Telegram: School official arrested for stealing $450,000 from district (Updated)

The Telegram & Gazettte reports that police arrested a Northborough-Southborough schools employee on Wednesday:

Fueled by an addiction to painkillers and cocaine, the budget officer for the Northborough-Southborough School District stole as much as $450,000 from the district, authorities alleged Thursday in District Court.

Superintendent Christine Johnson called in the police after discovering the theft. At this time, she can’t comment on the case or how it could effect schools’ budget.

The employee allegedly confessed that he first intended to pay cash back, but got in too deep. Based on details in the article, it seems embezzlement may have been going on for a couple of years.

The accused estimated having stolen $200K-400K. But charges filed estimate $450,000. And he admitted to writing checks totaling $150,000 in the last three months.

It appears that he deposited vendors’ payments into petty cash, so he could pilfer money from that account.

For more details, read the full article here.

Updated (3/4/16 9:10 am): For the statement issued by the Superintendent to parents, click here.

Updated (3/4/15 9:13 am): Corrected the link to the story. Original link was to less detailed version on Southborough Wicked Local.

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8 years ago

That’s a lot of drugs.. and very close to our schools… I have to imagine he might be buying them from a someone distributing in the area? I would imagine this supplier is also supplying students.

I hope they uncover more about how he was accessing $150,000 worth of drugs in 3 months.

8 years ago

Sounds like woefully inadequate controls were in place. It is good that it appears to have been caught internally but inexcusable that the theft went on so long by an apparent junior employee. So many many questions. Hopefully someone will step up with answers soon.

Al Hamilton
8 years ago
Reply to  Publius

I agree. It sounds like a lack of controls. When I served on the Advisory committee the Auditor who reviewed our accounts cited the need for better cash control. I don’t know if anything has been done about this but I think it unlikely.

Good cash and financial controls protect the reputations of the many fine people who work for us and deter the few (if any) that might be tempted.

Frank Crowell
8 years ago

I certainly hope all three school committees call for a combined emergency publicly held meeting where some tough questions are answered. Their mess as much as it is Ms Johnson’s.

Southborough Town Clerk
8 years ago
Reply to  Frank Crowell

Mr. Crowell,

The Southborough School Committee and the Northborough-Southborough Regional School Committee posted notice of an “Emergency School Committee Meeting” to be held on Monday 3/7/16 at 7 pm in the Algonquin Regional High School Library. The agenda is listed as “To investigate charges of criminal misconduct or to consider the filing of criminal complaints.”

The meeting notice is posted on the Southborough Town website in the Upcoming Meetings section.

Jim Hegarty
Southborough Town Clerk
(508) 485-0710 x 3007

Frank Crowell
8 years ago

Mr Hegarty – thank you for posting this. I am out of town but hope to make it back in time for this meeting.

8 years ago

This is unreal. So, could have been lost through trading? This could explain the heavy losses over the past 3 months. Almost a half million dollars has allegedly disappeared. Does the school system carry any ’embezzlement insurance’ ?

8 years ago

Where is the Business Director in all of this ? One would think that her six figure salary would assure that such an enormous sum of money would not slip through any lack of controls. $450,000???? What are her credentials ? I have been told that she was a former Superintendents secretary. And she’s running a multi million dollar business? What would you expect to happen? I would ask for an immediate resignation.

Frank Crowell
8 years ago

I wonder if it would be too much to ask of elected school committees to tell us a little bit about what is going on internally. I am certain they cannot comment on an ongoing investigation but they certainly can comment on what actions are being taken to ensure this does not happen again (No, I do not think that requires the investigation to be complete).

A week ago this was “a bit too much to comprehend.” All involved should have their arms around it now.

8 years ago

These are our tax payments that were stolen and the tax payers of Northboro and Southboro deserve an explanation. Thousands of dollars being deposited to a “petty cash” account is a red flag. Checks made out to “cash” is a huge red flag that should have been noticed by other employees / supervisors. It also should have been picked up during the annual audit. Cash handling should never be done completely by only one person. All checking accounts should be reconciled monthly.

What level employee is this budget officer? Is there fraud insurance and if so will this theft be covered? The theft was a criminal act but the lack of controls that allowed this to go on for so long is also criminal. This is basic accounting and never should have happened in a school district as large as Algonquin.

Frank Crowell
8 years ago

Would it be too much to ask Ms. Harragan Polutchko or Mr. Desmond to comment on the progress of the investigation, cost to recover the money or actions being taken to prevent this from happening again? You are the chairs of the school committees you are on. Plenty of questions unanswered – plenty of town services could have been covered with $450K.

Anything prior to TM?

Frank Crowell
8 years ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

That release leaves plenty of questions that could be answered now: cost of audits and other items mentioned ………………how about projected costs? Certainly that can be disclosed prior to TM.

For the most part, my post is not directed at the Superintendent. We have heard from her. We have not heard from either chair. That embezzlement is a complete embarrassment and the taxpayers should hear from the people who appointed the Superintendent. We ask BOS to justify their positions and they reply. Have not seen the town lose $450K by embezzlement. Fairly sure there would be pickets at the Town House if the same non-communication occurred by the BOS after an internal crime.

The education committees should speak. There certainly must be something they can say with respect to what they are doing.

Frank Crowell
8 years ago

I did not expect either school committee chairman to reply to my questions, but that does not stop me from asking more questions. As time goes by, I just find more questions to ask. Maybe one of the committee members will find these useful and take action.

– Will the school committee be performing their own investigation or rely on the auditors and outside consultants hired by the superintendent?

– Is there a policy to test new hires for drug use? If not, why not? The district offices are in a Southborough school building.

– Were there signs of trouble with the accused employee over the last two years? Does the internal working environment offer a chance for employees to discuss suspicious behavior?

– Will improvements suggested by ongoing investigations be put to a vote within each committee and will this be an open session?

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