Sunday, January 12, 2014

Principal charged with embezzlement, stealing students’ lunch money in Vermont

Former Readsboro Central School principal Michael Heller turned himself into state police Monday, following an investigation into misused funds from two grants the school received in 2013.

Heller, 40, of Fairfax, faces charges of embezzlement, fraud, and petit larceny after police investigated the misuse of more than $4,000 in grants, which police say Heller used for personal expenses such as hotels, food, and shopping. After interviewing the principal’s secretary, police say they also found evidence that Heller had allegedly pocketed around $200 in student lunch money.

The investigation began after Windham Southwest Supervisory Union superintendent Richard McClements contacted state police to report suspected fraud and embezzlement following a financial audit. McClements said that the WSSU had asked Heller for invoices related to expenses from two grants that totaled approximately $4,000. All school district business offices are required to review expenditures from grants, however, according to McClements, the district was not being provided statements, only excuses for their absence.

Following a set deadline, the district accessed the bank statements from the grant account and saw the financial transactions on the account were clearly not for their intended purposes. According to police, after Heller was questioned by the Readsboro School Board, he provided a manufactured list of transactions in an attempt to cover up illegal activity, one that was obviously not a bank original, according to McClements. This in turn has resulted in charges of forgery.

Heller, who had been RCS principal for 16 months, resigned at a school board meeting on Monday, December 16. According to a letter sent to educators and staff at the school on Tuesday, December 17, Heller resigned to focus on health and family, and it was with a “heavy heart” that he was leaving. When Heller was hired he described Readsboro as a school in a rebuilding stage, one that needed to focus on both community and accountability.

According to State Trooper Lauren Ronan, the two grants Heller is accused of siphoning money from include a $5,000 Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Grant for school improvement projects, and a $1,000 theater grant from Macy’s, intended to help fund the school’s production of “Yes, Virginia.” While Trooper Ronan would not specify how many individual transactions were made and in what amounts, she said that in Vermont, each count of embezzlement of over $100 is a felony. Ronan did say that the number of transactions related to the embezzlement charges was in double digits.

While McClements would not speak about Heller’s resignation, as it is a personnel issue, he did say that having a principal, or any employee, charged with a serious offense is a major disappointment. “One of the things that made America the great nation it is is the public school system,” said McClements. “It gives all children the opportunity to rise above whatever state their families may have come from, and become whatever they choose to be through hard work. So we have a sacred trust to run our organization for the benefit and good of the children, and what’s disappointing is when some individual crosses that line. It’s a betrayal of our responsibility to children.”

Heller was processed and released and cited to appear in Bennington Superior Court on January 27. Heller could not be reached for comment. Readsboro School Board members also refused to comment.

No comments:

Post a Comment