Arrest made in theft of student funds

July 13, 1995|By Scott Higham and John Rivera | Scott Higham and John Rivera,Sun Staff Writers

Marion E. White has been keeping criminal investigators busy for years.

She pleaded guilty in 1983 to embezzling $388,000 from the Community College of Baltimore. Then, the state Education Department hired her, unaware that she was on work-release from her prison term. Now, after disappearing without a trace last year, she is charged with stealing $77,500 from two student bank accounts at the department.

Investigators said yesterday that they finally found Ms. White in Pennsylvania, apparently collecting welfare checks from two states while living under an assumed name. She waived extradition and will be arraigned in Baltimore Circuit Court on Aug. 7.

"We're delighted," said Carolyn Henneman, deputy chief of criminal investigations for the Maryland attorney general's office. "We knew we would find her. It was just a matter of time."

Investigators have been trying to find Ms. White ever since a grand jury indicted her on Jan. 27, 1994, on charges of siphoning $77,500 from the two accounts -- money students raised by holding bake sales and carwashes.

State Police Cpl. Jacqueline Whitaker and other investigators were reluctant to reveal how they found Ms. White, saying only that a "paper trail" led them to Farrell, Pa., near the Ohio border.

Investigators said they found in Ms. White's possession photo identification cards from the Pennsylvania and Ohio welfare agencies, one listing her real name and the other listing an alias, Angela L. Ashby. Both bore her photograph.

Ms. White has not been charged in Pennsylvania with welfare fraud, but officials from that state's inspector general's office said they are still investigating.

Ms. White, 42, was arrested June 1 and extradited to Maryland. She appeared in court Tuesday, was ordered to return for arraignment and was freed on $20,000 bond.

Ms. White, who is staying with her mother in Baltimore, did not return phone messages yesterday. No one appeared to be home last night at her mother's Northwest Baltimore residence.

Ms. White first caught investigators' attention in 1982, after she started to forge checks from the Community College of Baltimore's tuition accounts while a clerk supervisor, court records show.

A 12-year city worker at the time, she wrote checks to herself, to her friends and to her niece. Prosecutors charged 20 people in the highly publicized case, saying the total take from the college (now called Baltimore City Community College) was nearly $900,000. The money was never recovered.

In March 1983, Ms. White pleaded guilty to theft charges and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with seven years suspended. She served three years at the Women's House of Correction in Jessup and in a work-release program in Baltimore, records show.

Seven months before her release from the program, Ms. White landed a temporary job at the Maryland Department of Education. No one, it seems, bothered to check on her past. An employment agency referred her to the department.

Educators say they were completely fooled by Ms. White, a bubbly worker always willing to help her colleagues. Two months after she was freed from the work-release program, the Education Department, still unaware of her background, hired her as a full-time secretary.

For five years, Ms. White excelled, eventually winning a job overseeing the bank accounts of the state organizations of two student groups, the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America and the Health Occupation Students of America.

According to court documents and prosecutors, Ms. White started to write checks from the two accounts about three years ago, forging the signatures of two department fiscal officers, then cashing them at banks and a check-cashing store.

In September 1992, Ms. White suddenly resigned, citing personal reasons. Her supervisors were floored by what they found. Within days of her departure, legitimate checks written against the student accounts began to bounce.

The supervisors tried calling Ms. White, but she was nowhere to be found. Investigators discovered that every document in Ms. White's office was gone -- bank records, balance sheets, canceled checks. The students' bank accounts were empty.

The accounts have since been replenished by the students, and responsibility for managing the money has been shifted to the treasurers of the two groups.

Ms. White faces eight counts of forgery, theft and cashing phony checks. She could be sentenced to 90 years if convicted and given the maximum term on each of the counts.

Education Department administrators said yesterday that they learned a few lessons from the episode and that they have changed their procedures for screening job applicants.

Work and education histories are now verified. And applications that raise red flags -- breaks in work histories, inaccurate information -- will trigger checks of criminal backgrounds, department spokesman Ron Peiffer said.

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