Oak Bluffs School worker charged with embezzlement
Oak Bluffs police last week filed charges in Edgartown District Court against an Oak Bluffs School secretary they said embezzled more than $15,000 from a school account under her control.
Tuesday the court found probable cause to summons Susan T. Peters, 59, of Oak Bluffs to Edgartown District Court on Sept. 24 to face charges of larceny over $250 by embezzlement, forgery of checks, uttering false checks, and larceny.
The charges carry a maximum of 10 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.
Martha's Vineyard superintendent of schools James Weiss said Tuesday that Ms. Peters is on administrative leave with pay, pending an investigation by the school department and police department. "We have been working with our attorneys to make sure that all of her rights are managed appropriately," he said.
Mr. Weiss said there has been some discussion about restitution with members of Ms. Peters's family. "We would expect that that won't be an issue," he said.
M. Weiss said that it is a sad day for Susan Peters and for the school district. "Hopefully, we can all learn from this and make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.
Ms. Peters is a member of a large, well-known Island family. She has worked in the school for almost 14 years, first in the cafeteria and later in the office.
Yesterday, Jessica Peters said that her mother was advised by her lawyer Charles Morano of Edgartown not to make any statement.
According to a police incident report, on Monday, Aug. 20, Oak Bluffs School assistant principal Carlin Hart told Sgt. Michael Marchand and Detective Nicholas Curelli that a PTO (parent teacher organization) account was overdrawn. He said that several unauthorized checks with the forged signature of principal Laury Binney had been made out to cash or to Ms. Peters. Mr. Hart told police he suspected she was responsible for embezzling several thousand dollars.
Police interviewed Ms. Peters later in the day at the police station. They told her that they were investigating the theft of school funds from an account under her control.
According to the police report, police presented the PTO ledger to Ms. Peters, and she admitted to forging at least 11 checks and stealing in excess of $15,000.
Mr. Binney is currently on a one-year sabbatical. On Tuesday, Mr. Hart, acting principal, referred all questions and comments to Mr. Weiss.
This week, Mr. Weiss said that the theft was first discovered over the summer after office staff reviewed a statement for an account used for a variety of student purposes. The staff looked at all of the bank statements and "noticed there were some irregularities," he said.
During the school year, the account is under the control of Ms. Peters, who does not work in the summer. Although the account is called the PTO account, there is no connection between it and the parent teacher organization, said Mr. Weiss. It is a school account under the control of the school principal, funded mainly by donations, he said, and used for purposes that include subsidizing students who cannot afford to go on field trips.
Mr. Weiss said the account is not part of the annual operating budget. "Certainly no taxpayer dollars were involved in this at all," he said. "This is not the regular school district budget. That is intact and is audited on a regular basis, so that something like this would be very difficult to have happen."
The theft has led to changes and plans for future discussion of financial management. Mr. Weiss said his first meeting with all of the Island school principals would be used to discuss the proper ways to safeguard small accounts and petty cash. That will include a requirement for two signatures.
"There won't be an opportunity like this again, based upon what we have learned," said Mr. Weiss.
There is often a general assumption by Island residents that people can be trusted. That sense of trust often underlies what on hindsight are lax controls, Mr. Weiss said, adding that this incident would lead to changes.
"The violation of trust is really more significant than the money," said Mr. Weiss. "When you put your trust in a valued employee, you hope that that employee will do what's right. We learned from this, and we will make sure that we have the systems in place to ensure as best we can that nothing like this happens again."