School embezzlement results in probation

September 20, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A former bookkeeper at Musselman High School admitted Monday that she embezzled $27,000 in school funds over a two-year period.

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Sandra McDonald repaid all of the stolen money Monday and was sentenced to five years of probation through a plea agreement in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

McDonald could have been sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison for felony embezzlement.

McDonald, 44, of Inwood, W.Va., told investigators she embezzled money from athletic, yearbook, vending and cafeteria accounts at Musselman High School from 1996 until 1998, Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said.

An audit of the school's financial records led McDonald to write an anonymous letter to the Berkeley County Board of Education in late October 1998, tipping them off that she had been embezzling money from the school, Games-Neely said.


"She couldn't live with it anymore," Games-Neely said.

McDonald embezzled the school money because of financial problems at home, Games-Neely said.

McDonald and her attorney left Monday's hearing without commenting to reporters.

The district was already suspicious about McDonald's activities after auditors reported financial records and files were missing from the school, board member Bill Sonnik said.

McDonald, who had been with the district for 10 years, had already resigned from the school in July 1998 when she wrote the letter to the Board of Education.

"Everything pointed at her," Sonnik said.

The school district had announced in August 1998 that an administrator and a former secretary were being investigated by the West Virginia State Police for possible misuse of school funds.

McDonald agreed to work with investigators early on and the plea agreement was delayed to give her time to come up with the $27,000 in restitution, Games-Neely said.

"It was admirable that she came up with the money," Games-Neely said.

The school district's insurance carrier will receive $10,000 with the balance of the $27,000 going into the coffers of Musselman High School, Games-Neely said.

The Board of Education agreed with the plea agreement on the condition it would not prevent the district from pursuing a civil action against McDonald, Games-Neely said.

"This remains a sad thing, but it is a relief to put this part behind us," Sonnik said.

The Board of Education accepted the resignation of former Musselman High School Principal John J. Cole in September 1998 after he had been placed on administrative leave during the state police investigation.

The school district did not pursue criminal charges against Cole because the Board of Education felt any mistakes on his part related to bookkeeping and management practices, Sonnik said.

"There was nothing criminal," Sonnik said.

The school district has initiated tighter financial practices and stricter procedures in the wake of the embezzlement investigation, Sonnik said.

"The audit would have caught (McDonald's embezzlement), but there are always concerns with the public's trust. The saddest thing is that some of the money that was taken had been raised by kids," Sonnik said.

The school district has not filed a civil suit against McDonald but will reserve that right, Sonnik said.

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