Ex-secretary pleads guilty in school theft

October 19, 2006|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

A former financial secretary for a Carroll County high school pleaded guilty yesterday to embezzling more than $200,000 in school funds over nearly a seven-year period, in what officials and prosecutors said was one of the largest thefts to hit the school system.

Wendy Sue Bowers, 39, of Taneytown, had been charged with eight felony counts of theft after being accused of stealing $228,330.61 from South Carroll High School in Sykesville, according to court documents.

Bowers pleaded guilty to one count of theft. She could receive up to 15 years in prison and a $25,000 fine, said Melissa Hockensmith, a senior assistant state's attorney. Bowers is scheduled to be sentenced in early January.

"Whenever somebody keeps two sets of books, you know that it's a complicated scheme," Hockensmith said, referring to the two spreadsheets that Bowers created, which detailed school account transactions.

As part of the scheme, Bowers manipulated a pre-numbered triplicate paper receipt system, doctoring the bottom pink copy of the receipt that she sent to the school system's finance department, according to court documents.

"Her plea is evidence that speaks louder than words of her acceptance of responsibility and her hope that she is able, in some fashion, to give restitution to her community and school," said Thomas Morrow, Bowers' attorney.

Although Bowers has yet to make any restitution to the school system, Morrow said, she was looking into resources -- such as borrowing money -- that might allow her to return the funds. She also may use money earned from her new job, working as a receptionist in Pennsylvania, Morrow said.

Bowers worked for the Carroll County school system for 16 years, and had been considered a trusted employee, court documents said. She had been at South Carroll High for about 10 years, said Stephen Guthrie, the assistant superintendent of administration. Bowers left the district this past June.

From September 1999 through April 2006, Bowers allegedly stole money raised through vending machine profits, student fundraisers, yearbooks and athletic events, according to court documents and school officials.

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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