Two Pierce County PTAs investigated for theft, fraud

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by JOHN LANGELER / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on July 15, 2014 at 11:09 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 18 at 1:13 PM

TACOMA -- Police in Tacoma and Renton are investigating alleged embezzlement within two different Parent Teacher Associations.  While no charges have been filed in either case, at least one arrest has been made.

A police report was filed regarding Sherman Elementary's PTSA in March with Tacoma Police.  The department said a former secretary was arrested, but the case is now with the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office, and no charges have been filed.

No other details were provided by authorities.

"When we found out that there might be something going on, it was shocking," said Sherman PTSA Vice President Alicia Lawver.

Lawver declined to give information on how much was taken, but spoke to the impact the allegations have had.

"To find out that they've been undermining your efforts can be really devastating," she commented.

A few weeks ago, parents at Whittier Elementary in Fircrest were told of another alleged case of theft.  At an emergency PTA meeting, it was disclosed $8500 was missing.  Renton Police are investigating the claim.

Heather Gillette, President of the Washington State PTA, said Tuesday disclosure of these incidents can be beneficial.

"I think it says something good that we're catching it," she said, "We're here for the kids and we want the money to stay in the schools."

Most PTAs are insured, so any money lost is reimbursed, Gillette said.  PTA board members also must complete a three-hour training course on "missing money", and what to watch for.  It's a relatively new program Gillete believes is helping stop embezzlement.

"What's happening is the training is taking place and we're catching it more frequently," said Gillette.

There were at least four publicized cases of PTA embezzlement in Western Washington within the last four years, not including the current investigations in Pierce County.

Gillette and Lawver agree the most damaging aspect of the incidents is broken trust, within the PTA and with the community.

"To have that trust broken and wonder who else might be lying to you, it can be a really hard thing," said Lawver.

 Editor's Note: Tacoma Police initially identified the subject of its investigation as the Sherman Elem. PTSA's former treasurer.  In a corrected statement, the department stated the organization's former secretary is actually under investigation.

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