Arrest in PTA money losses

Ex-treasurer of Hampstead school group is charged

$60,000 reported missing

Questions arose last month

Man faces 42 charges

shortage found during playground purchase

July 20, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The former treasurer of the Hampstead Elementary School PTA was arrested yesterday on dozens of theft charges after being accused of taking tens of thousands of dollars from the group for his personal use over a two-year-period, police said.

John N. Biggs Jr., 39, of the 1600 block of Old Manchester Road, Westminster, has been charged with 39 counts of theft of more than $500, three counts of theft of less than $500 and a theft scheme, said Capt. Jay Gribbin of the Hampstead Police Department.

Carroll school officials believe that as much as $60,000 may be missing from the Hampstead PTA's account, Edmund J. O'Meally, an attorney for the Carroll County Board of Education, said this week.

An official of the National PTA in Chicago said it would be the largest theft from a PTA that she had heard of.

Some of the money came from fund-raisers by PTA members and their children, such as selling candles and organizing games.

Questions about the PTA's money arose last month, when the Hampstead school principal was preparing a purchase order for a $28,000 playground with money from the PTA that did not appear to be in its account.

It was unclear yesterday when Biggs relinquished his duties as the PTA's treasurer. Donna Lyons, Hampstead Elementary's PTA president, declined comment yesterday and referred all questions to the Hampstead Police Department.

"It's an ongoing investigation so I cannot talk about it at all," she said.

Biggs was arrested without incident yesterday at his part-time job at an Eldersburg bakery, after an investigation that began in mid-June, police said.

Officers searched his car and seized a computer Thursday night at the First United Presbyterian Church in Westminster, where he also worked part time, and they searched Biggs' home yesterday morning, authorities said.

Melissa O. Hockensmith, Carroll's assistant state's attorney for white-collar crime, said no money had been recovered, but the investigation is continuing.

"There is so much stuff to sift through, you're talking months," said Gribbin, of the Hampstead police force, when asked about the money. "We just don't know until we get into the books."

No other arrests are expected at this point in the investigation, authorities said.

Biggs was being held last night at the Maryland State Police barracks in Westminster as the charging documents were being prepared. He was to be taken next to the Carroll County Detention Center and later before a Carroll District Court commissioner.

Sun staff writer Athima Chansanchai contributed to this article.

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