Audit finds thefts from Berwick Elementary fundraisers

By JEAN L. KAESS

CENTERVILLE, La. — Thefts from school fundraisers and an after school care program were among the items detailed in the audit report on Berwick Elementary School’s activity fund released Thursday.

Former school secretary and Berwick Councilwoman Penny T. Crappell was arrested Aug. 23 for felony theft and forgery after the audit revealed roughly $59,000 in school funds had been misappropriated.

Accountant Barbara Watts of Darnall, Sikes, Gardes & Frederick told the St. Mary Parish School Board Thursday the fundraisers audited were from the 2011-12 school year.

Watts said the audit found the following:

—The candle sale should have generated $22,818 in gross revenues. However, when compared with the receipt book maintained by school personnel, auditors were only able to verify $20,591 for a difference of $2,227.

—The cookie dough sale estimated gross revenues were $34,995, compared to $33,625 in verifiable receipts for a difference of $1,370.

—The after school care program should have collected $3,620 more than was deposited as verified by the collection sheets maintained by personnel overseeing the program.

—Among the disbursements in the one-year period of June 1, 2011 to May 31, numerous discrepancies were noted. One was a cancelled check in the amount of $1,725 that contained a memo reference “Faculty X-mas.” However, the invoice for faculty Christmas presents given that year reflects a total of $525 — a difference of $1,200 that is unaccounted for.

—All checks had two authorized signatures as required by state statute for school activity funds, one being that of the principal. “However, it appears that in some instances the check may have been signed using a signature stamp which is in violation of St. Mary Parish School Board policies and procedures,” the audit states.

—“We performed procedures to verify that all disbursements were accompanied by a request for withdrawal form that is signed by two authorized personnel as required by the state statute for school activity funds. A withdrawal form was not noted for any of the 44 disbursements included in the sample,” the audit states.

After numerous problems were found in the one-year audit, the school board expanded the audit to include four more years. The complete five-year findings were detailed by Watts:

—In all, 84 disbursements were chosen for testing. Of those, supporting documentation could not be found for 62.

—There were 34 instances where the payee noted on the cancelled check that appeared on the bank statement did not match the payee on the check stub on file with the school system.

—There were nine additional instances where the payee on the check stub was left blank.

—Two disbursements were to a company owned by an employee of a school, seven to the spouse of an employee, 29 to the same employee, three to the school’s principal and 19 to “cash.” Out of these, only two were able to be traced to “inaccurate” supporting documentation.

—Among those was “a disbursement to the school’s principal, which we were unable to trace to support, that the amount on the cancelled check appears on the bank statement as $625.73; however, the amount on the check stub for this disbursement is $25.73. We did note a purchase receipt in the amount of $35.73 dated within the same time frame as this disbursement,” the audit states.

—Nine disbursements were written without supporting documentation in which auditors were able to trace what appeared to be the same amounts charged on various Wal-Mart credit card statements. These amounts totaled $10,724. Of this amount, three disbursements were written in 2009 and appeared to match credit card charges from the Aug. 16, 2008 statement. These amounts totaled $6,136.

—There were two instances where the payee on the cancelled check that appears on the bank statement appears to be whited out and “Wal-Mart” handwritten on the payee line. The principal had obtained copies of the two checks from the bank directly, and the payee line on those check copies was actually made out to “cash.”

—Auditors noted various items in which the amounts on checks appear to match actual invoices obtained from the client with additional numbers inserted in the check amount that made the disbursement in excess of the invoice amount.

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