Sunday, August 29, 2010

Former PTO officer in West Virginia now faces charges

The former vice president of a school's parent-teacher organization is charged with credit card fraud, identity theft and embezzling money from the PTO. According to a complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court on Monday, Sarah Elizabeth Harless, 33, of Elkview, allegedly took more than $13,000 from the Pinch Elementary PTO's accounts.Harless was arrested and released Aug. 16 on $1,000 bond. She was charged with one count of embezzlement, four counts of credit card fraud and two counts of identity theft.
Though Harless was elected vice president of the organization, she took over as treasurer around Nov. 1 after elected treasurer Polly Stuart could not maintain her duties due to "personal reasons," the complaint said."I think she just had a lot of things on her plate," Pinch Elementary Principal Elizabeth Moore said of Stuart.According to the complaint, Harless then served as treasurer until mid-April, when members discovered she had embezzled money from its Chase Bank and United Bank accounts. Harless also used the PTO's CitiBusiness account to make "fraudulent purchases for her personal benefit." Harless used her issued card and then-PTO president Kristi Rhule's card to make more than $8,000 in purchases, according to the complaint.The complaint states the vice president also opened a fraudulent business account with Capital One on behalf of Stuart and the Pinch PTO without anyone's permission. She used this credit card to make more than $900 in fraudulent personal purchases, the complaint said.Harless admitted in May to using money from the United Bank, Chase Bank and CitiBusiness accounts to make personal purchases, including paying her utility.She said she used the CitiBusiness card in January, the complaint said, and used funds from the United Bank account to make payments on the CitiBusiness card.Harless also admitted she failed to pay several vendors that had provided services to the Pinch PTO and verified she opened the Capital One account and used it for personal purchases, the complaint said.Moore said she couldn't comment on the embezzlement charges because the Kanawha Sheriff's Department is still investigating. "We've been working with the law enforcement with this and will continue to work with them," she said.Kristi Rhule, who served as PTO president at the time of the alleged embezzlement, said she hopes the case against Harless doesn't affect the high level of community involvement Pinch Elementary has, or deter parents from supporting the organization in the future.Harless has not worked with the PTO since approximately April 15, she said."As a nonprofit organization, every penny counts, so when embezzlement occurs it makes for a tough time," she said.

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