Former Valley Forge Elementary bookkeeper lodges best-interest guilty plea to stealing school funds

John Thompson • Apr 5, 2013 at 10:07 AM

ELIZABETHTON — A former bookkeeper at Valley Forge Elementary School entered an Alford guilty plea in Carter County Criminal Court on Wednesday to charges she stole school funds.

Tabitha Tolley Street, 40, entered guilty pleas to theft over $1,000 and official misconduct. Under an Alford plea, a defendant pleads guilty because it is in their best interest, not because they admit their guilt.

In accepting the plea, Judge Robert Cupp ordered Street to pay $500 in restitution to Valley Forge in increments of $75 per month, beginning May 1. Cupp also fined Street $25 and court costs on each of the two charges. Her attorney fee to the public defender’s office was set at $2,000.

Street will be sentenced on June 21.

Street was indicted by a Carter County grand jury in May following an audit by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office. The audit reported that between July 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010, Street apparently misappropriated more than $8,500 from several fundraising collections at the school and manipulated school records to conceal the thefts.

The audit alleged Street did not receipt certain checks payable to the school. Instead, she deposited these unrecorded checks into the school’s bank account and exchanged them for cash obtained from other school collections, apparently keeping the cash for her personal use.

The auditor listed the unaccounted funds as being from five sources:

* Unrecorded checks exchanged for school cash: $4,259.

* School photographs — November 2009: $1,164.

* Yearbook — 2010: $1,345.

* Book fair — October 2010: $1,099.

* School photographs — April 2010: $675.

Other unaccounted for fundraiser collections included $409 for a gourmet fundraiser in 2009 and $1,908 for a candy sale in spring 2010.

Assistant Public Defender Melanie Sellers said the state could not have proven all of the amount. She said the auditor missed properly recorded checks because he did not ask questions.

She said this was especially true when a parent or guardian with a different last name from the child’s wrote a check for the fundraiser. These checks were recorded under the check writer’s last name instead of the child’s, Sellers said. The auditor could not connect these checks to the child if the child’s name had not been included in the memo line of the check.

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