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Ex-secretary pleads guilty to one count

November 11, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - A former Ranson Elementary School secretary who allegedly received more than $20,000 after she submitted overtime requests with forged signatures pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of felony embezzlement, a prosecutor said.

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. sentenced Barbara Staats to serve from one to 10 years in jail, but the sentence was suspended, said Jefferson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Larry Crofford.

Steptoe put Staats, of Cedar Lane in Charles Town, W.Va., on probation for five years, Crofford said.

Staats also was ordered to make restitution in the case, but the amount that Staats will pay to the school system has not been determined, Crofford said.

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Crofford said he will consult with Jefferson County Schools officials to determine the amount of the restitution.

Staats was indicted on 61 counts of forgery, 61 counts of uttering, one count of fraudulent schemes and one count of felony embezzlement, Crofford said.

Staats pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement under Alford circumstances.

Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt, but acknowledges there is enough evidence for a conviction.

Under the plea agreement, the remaining charges were dropped, Crofford said.

Staats was accused of receiving $29,373.68 between March 27, 1997, and Nov. 30, 2000, after she submitted overtime requests that had forged signatures of Principal Debra Corbett and Judith Cain, a teacher at the school, according to the criminal complaint.

The complaint states that Staats was responsible for money raised through fund-raisers and that an audit conducted at the school showed that $11,875 was missing from school fund-raisers, the criminal complaint says.

The $29,373.68 in overtime money was paid to Staats because her name was listed as the recipient of the money on the forms containing the forged signatures, schools Treasurer Nancy White and Gerry Sokol, former associate superintendent for personnel, said in the complaint.

At the time, the overtime forms were sent directly to the payroll department for payment and the money was added to the employees' paycheck, said White.

Changes have since been made in the way overtime forms are submitted to the central office, White said.

Overtime must now be pre-approved by Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols or by officials in the human resources department, White said.

Overtime forms have to be approved again by the superintendent or an associate superintendent before payment can be made, said White.

When the superintendent or an associate superintendent reviews the forms, they consult with the principal from the school to make sure the overtime form is legitimate, White said.

White said she did not know what the total amount of money would be for Staats' restitution, but said it would be close to the amount that was missing.

Regarding the restitution, White said she talked to state Department of Education officials this week and was told that school officials also could request the cost of an audit be made part of the restitution.

School officials had to conduct an audit to determine how much money was missing, White said.

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