The former chief financial officer of the Grand Prairie (Texas) Independent School District has been charged with stealing $600,000 in district funds.
Carolyn Foster, 61, faces one count of federal program theft, the U.S. Attorney's office in Dallas says in a news release.
The district says the alleged theft was uncovered after two accountants in Grand Prairie's finance department questioned the way cash funds had been handled. they alerted their supervisor the day after Foster quit her job last year.
Grand Prairie School Superintendent Susan Hull described the theft as “a reprehensible act of selfishness and greed.”
“We are very proud of the two finance department employees whose commitment to public service and diligence in doing their jobs helped uncover Foster’s apparent misdeeds just one day after she left the district,” says Hull.
Foster allegedly gained access to a vault in the district's administration building that held cash for awards to teachers and other needs.
Over a period of nearly a year, Foster allegedly stole $600,000 in cash. She allegedly ordered the money withdrawn from district bank accounts and delivered by armored truck to the district offices. Foster then allegedly told finance department employees the money was for special cash awards for teachers for school supplies and for settlements in lawsuits. Grand Prairie did not have any lawsuits that needed cash settlements.
The scheme started to unravel on Sept. 1, the day after Foster left the district. Finance department staff accountants Edie Ellis and Becky Harris previously had questioned Foster about how cash was being handled, and she had assured them she took responsibility for management of the funds.
Both the accountants reported their concerns to Finance Director Ray Wilks and after a initial investigation to verify information, police were notified the next morning.
Since the theft was discovered, the district has put into place new processes and procedures, with multiple backups and redundancies, “to make sure that never again can a single person, even a high-ranking executive, on his or her own authority gain access to money that belongs to our schools," says Hull.
Among the new safeguards: At least two district officials must be involved in any order for cash. Two digital-combination, floor-bolted safes have been installed to hold any cash on hand for business purposes at district headquarters. The combinations to the safes will be changed monthly, and cameras have been installed to record any activities in the vault and safe areas.