Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Former principal charged with embezzling school funds sentenced to jail, probation in Michigan

 A former middle school principal who pleaded guilty to embezzling school funds will be spending the next 30 days in jail for her crime.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Susan Beebe sentenced former Middle School at Parkside principal Kelly Gilliam-Pennington to 330 days in jail, 30 days to be served immediately beginning Wednesday, Jan. 11.

After serving the 30 days in jail, the remainder of her sentence will be suspended while she enters probation for the next five years.

"Being caught is one of the best things that could have happened to me," Gilliam-Pennington said, weeping at the stand. "I know what I did was wrong. There is nobody here more disappointed in me than me."

Gilliam-Pennington pleaded guilty to one felony count of embezzlement of $20,000 or more, but less than $50,000 at a pretrial hearing Dec. 2.

She admitted that between December 2013 and September 2015, while she was Parkside's principal she fraudulently wrote checks out of the school's "Principal Fund" for personal use in excess of $50,000.

In accepting the plea deal, the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office agreed to not pursue a higher charge of embezzling $50,000 or more, but less than $100,000.

"She took $97,362 from the school. That's two to three times what the average Jackson family makes a year," said Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Nick Mehalco. "I understand her personal struggles put her in a place where she sought safety in a casino, but it's one thing to have a gambling problem with your own money and it's another when the money is earmarked for kids."

JPS officials reported the alleged embezzlement to police in September 2015 after audits of Parkside's finances turned up irregularities and discrepancies in receipts and checks, JPS Superintendent Jeff Beal has said.

Kelly Gilliam-Pennington, who resigned suddenly from her position at Jackson's Middle School at Parkside last fall, is expected to turn herself in, according to the Jackson Police Department.

JPS already has been made whole by its insurance company for the missing funds, Beal said.

Beebe approved a restitution agreement for Gilliam-Pennington to repay the insurance company more than $84,000, though there may be a hearing in the future for her to pay the whole amount, Mehalco said.

Gilliam joined Parkside in 2013 after working 16 years in Ypsilanti's Willow Run Community Schools, four of which were spent as high school principal.

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