Ex-school secretary faces theft charges

August 16, 2006|By GINA DAVIS | GINA DAVIS,SUN REPORTER

A former Carroll County school financial secretary is facing charges of embezzling more than $200,000 during the past seven years from South Carroll High in what school officials and prosecutors described yesterday as an elaborate scheme that involved doctoring deposit receipts.

Wendy Sue Bowers, 39, of the 3800 block of Walnut Grove Road in Taneytown, has been charged in eight felony counts with scheming to steal $206,564 since the 1999-2000 school year. Each count carries a possible 15-year sentence and $25,000 fine. Bowers also could be forced to pay restitution.

Carroll Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway set Bowers' bail at $50,000 fully secured, meaning she must post the full amount to be released on bond. She remained in the Carroll County Detention Center last night. Her trial is scheduled for mid-October.

After the bail review hearing, Bowers' attorney, Andrew Stone, said he had no comment.

The money was taken from deposits for school-based accounts for athletic events, student fundraisers, vending machine profits, yearbooks and other student activities, said Superintendent Charles I. Ecker.

He said he was "outraged and felt sorry for the students" when he learned about the allegations.

"This former employee was a very trusted individual," he said.

Bowers, who earned $34,357 annually as financial secretary at South Carroll, left the district in June, Ecker said. School officials said they cannot elaborate on whether she was fired or resigned because an employee's personnel file is confidential.

Bowers worked for the district for 16 years, initially as a clerk for the central office before moving to South Carroll High in 1994, school officials said.

In February, the school system's comptroller, Bradley L. Martin, discovered deficits in South Carroll's accounts as he prepared for a Middle States Association audit as part of a 10-year evaluation of the district, school officials said.

After a subsequent investigation, county prosecutors said they discovered that a prenumbered triplicate paper receipt system had been manipulated.

Prosecutors said an employee such as a club adviser would give money to Bowers to be deposited and fill out the top sheet of the triplicate form, but then Bowers would doctor the carbon copies that were to be sent to the district's finance department to match the bank deposit.

The missing money was not immediately detected because Bowers continued to pay school bills by moving money around to cover expenses, Ecker said. He said the money will be replaced through the district's insurance.

When confronted in June by an investigator at her home, Bowers confessed to stealing the money and directed him to a storage space known as "the tunnel" at the school where she had hidden records, according to State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes.

Martin estimated that as much as $3 million had passed through school accounts while Bowers was financial secretary.

Prosecutors, who said they have not recovered the money, are continuing the investigation.

Ecker outlined several changes he is making across the system, including bolstering staff training, raising awareness about the potential for such thefts and increasing oversight of school accounts through random audits.

"We thought our controls were sufficient and working and sound - they obviously weren't good enough," Ecker said. "Our new procedures unfortunately will have to assume that everyone is dishonest."

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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