Fueled by an addiction to painkillers and cocaine, the budget officer for the Northboro-Southboro School District stole as much as $450,000 from the district, authorities alleged Thursday in Westboro District Court.
Christopher P. Hoey, 34, was arrested Wednesday night at his home at 15 Great Road in Stow, court records show, after allegedly admitting that he began taking money with the intent to give it back but got in too deep.
“Hoey put a self-estimated value of his theft in the $200,000 to $400,000 range,” state troopers wrote in court documents. Judge Vito A. Virzi ordered Mr. Hoey held on $100,000 cash bail, writing in the bail order that Mr. Hoey is alleged to have stolen $450,000.
The thefts were reported to Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. by district Superintendent Christine M. Johnson, who reached out Wednesday, troopers said, after financial records from the past three months led her to believe that Mr. Hoey had stolen from the district’s petty cash account. Troopers contacted Mr. Hoey at his home, and after being read his Miranda rights, he agreed to answer questions on audio tape.
“In essence, Hoey admitted that he deposited reimbursement checks from the various school districts and vendors into the ‘petty cash’ account,” Trooper Michael A. Leo wrote. “He would then write checks out to cash.
“Hoey stated that the majority of the cash was used to support a drug addiction,” Trooper Leo wrote, with a “small portion” used for personal expenses.
Police said Mr. Hoey told them he had a “serious” addiction to Percocet – an opioid pain medication – and cocaine, and that he has “started rehabilitation.”
Trooper Leo said Mr. Hoey “stated that he started (stealing) with the intention of paying the money back but eventually realized that it would not happen due to the amount that he was taking.”
Trooper Leo wrote that Mr. Hoey identified about 30 checks drawn from the account since December 2015 worth roughly $150,000.
“Hoey further stated that he started this scheme approximately one year into his employment,” Trooper Leo wrote.
The trooper did not write in the document how long Mr. Hoey had been employed by the district. Ms. Johnson declined to answer any questions on the topic Thursday; Mr. Hoey’s LinkedIn page indicates he had worked as budget officer in the district for 3 years and 7 months. Before that, he listed himself as assistant town accountant in Leicester for two years; a document posted to the Leicester town website confirms he was assistant accountant there in 2012.
According to court documents, Mr. Hoey’s job in the district was to process incoming revenue, vendor payments and payroll.
Mr. Hoey is charged with larceny over $250 by common scheme, embezzlement by a public official and larceny over $250 by uttering a false check. The charge for embezzlement by a public official would need to be prosecuted in a higher court and carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years; the other charges both have penalties ranging from two to five years in prison and fines of up to $25,000.
In a statement Thursday announcing the charges, Mr. Early said his troopers and police from Northboro and Southboro continue to investigate the case.
“The school district assisted investigators and a complete forensic audit is underway,” Mr. Early said.
Mr. Hoey had not made bail as of Thursday afternoon, court officials confirmed. He is due back in court for further arraignment on April 1.
At her office Friday in Southboro, Ms. Johnson said she could not comment because the case is still under investigation. She referred all questions to Mr. Early’s office, including questions about whether there would be ramifications on the school budget and whether Mr. Hoey had been fired.
Mr. Hoey was listed as budget officer at about 1 p.m. on the district’s website; by 5 p.m., his name had been removed.
“Efforts are underway to recover these funds as well as to ascertain the manner in which these funds were allegedly embezzled,” Ms. Johnson wrote in an email to parents Thursday evening. “At the conclusion of our investigation, we will review findings and recommendations regarding procedural safeguards.”
In her email, Ms. Johnson called the information “unsettling and difficult to comprehend,” and noted the district conducts financial audits every year.
“In the last few days, it has become increasingly clear that no school district or business is immune from unscrupulous individuals who may engage in fraudulent activities,” Ms. Johnson wrote.
Northboro and Southboro have three school districts – a K-8 district for each town and a third for Algonquin Regional High School – and they share central office staff.
For fiscal 2016, the budget for all three districts combined was $61.6 million - $20.7 million for Algonquin, $18.9 million for Southboro K-8 and $22 million for Northboro K-8.
Northboro K-8 School Committee Chairman John Kane said Thursday night that he does not anticipate the thefts to affect his budget. Kathleen Harragan Polutchko, chairwoman of the regional School Committee, did not immediately return a call Thursday evening, while Southboro K-8 School Committee Chairman Paul H. Desmond did not appear to have a working listed number.
A message left at a phone number listed in court papers for Mr. Hoey was not returned Thursday. A call to a listed number for his home rang repeatedly without reaching a machine.
Online records from the Stow assessor’s office value Mr. Hoey’s single-family home at $286,400