Police probe missing PTA funds

Elementary group's loss could amount to $60,000

Not done `in one fell swoop'

Hampstead

July 17, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Authorities are investigating the disappearance of as much as $60,000 from the Hampstead Elementary School PTA's bank account, police and the Carroll school board's lawyer said yesterday.

Although no one has been charged, the investigation has focused on one person with ties to the school's PTA, said Edmund J. O'Meally, an attorney for the Carroll County Board of Education.

"It's not clear exactly how much is missing and it's not clear exactly how it was done. But the books have been reviewed and we believe it is maybe as much as $60,000," O'Meally said.

He added, "It wasn't done in one fell swoop."

Officer Jeffrey Calafos of the Hampstead Police Department confirmed last night that he is handling the investigation into the missing money. But other than acknowledging the amount said to be missing, Calafos declined to comment.

The Hampstead Elementary PTA sold candles, held bingo games and organized races to raise $40,000 during the past school year, said Donna Lyons, the group's president.

Lyons said that $36,000 of the money was supposed to be spent on a new playground. The school's old playground, she said, was removed about two years ago because damage to the wooden structure had made it unsafe.

Lyons referred questions about the missing money to O'Meally, the school board's lawyer.

Jean Wasmer, immediate past president of Carroll Council of PTAs, said she was contacted June 13 about the Hampstead PTA's suspicions that money was missing from the group's account.

Wasmer and three members of the umbrella group's board spent four days going over the local organization's financial books before reporting their findings to the Hampstead Elementary PTA executive board. The information then was passed on to police.

O'Meally said he could not say much about the investigation because it is in the hands of police.

"Because of the criminal investigation, we have to be careful not to say too much," he said, adding that the situation is extremely unusual.

"We get embezzlement matters every once and a while with a secretary who skims money off accounts for years undetected, but never in my 16 years have I come across someone stealing from a PTA account," O'Meally said.

"It's kind of a low thing," he said. "You expect that when your kid sells some pizzas for his school that the money is going to be there."

The school PTA's insurance will cover most of the shortfall, O'Meally said, and the school has money in its account to use toward the playground, which is still expected to be completed in early September.

The school board and county government have agreed to lend the school the remaining money until the insurance payment comes through, he said.

Claire Kwiatkowski, the new president of the council of PTAs, suggested at last week's school board meeting that the district require all parent-based school organizations, including PTAs and PTOs, to carry a minimum level of insurance "to protect all involved."

Although she did not mention the investigation into Hampstead Elementary's missing funds, Kwiatkowski told the board, "We've moved way past cupcakes and bake-sale fund-raisers."

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