A criminal investigation officially has been launched and the state Legislative Auditor’s office has been notified of the “suspected misappropriation” of approximately $59,000 of assets at Berwick Elementary School.
The Daily Review on Friday received copies of letters sent to Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera by Darnall, Sikes, Gardes & Frederick auditor Barbara Watts and St. Mary Parish Chief Financial Auditor Alton Perry notifying him of the questionable spending.
Perry’s letter states, in part, “We became aware of this suspected misappropriation during our annual audit performed by Darnall, Sikes, Gardes & Frederick. Due to our auditors notifying us of suspected transactions noted during our audit, we agreed to expand the auditing procedures by entering into an agreed upon procedures agreement engagement that was approved by the St. Mary Parish School Board on July 12, 2012. Based on the additional procedures performed, it has been estimated that the amount of questioned costs to be (sic) approximately $59,000.
“We have notified the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office who in turn has notified the Louisiana State Police,” Perry’s letter concludes.
State Police Troop I Public Information Officer Stephen Hammons said the state police are conducting a criminal investigation, but cannot provide any details about who is being investigated or when an arrest, if any, might be made.
Watts’ letter indicates three schools were included in audit testing. At BES, “we noted issues based upon our testing that appeared to be a misappropriation of assets. Management was notified of these suspect items immediately. Management agreed that we expand our procedures and enter into an agreed upon procedures engagement for testing of this school’s activity funds further.”
Specifically, the audit looks at bank statements and reconciliations from June 1, 2011, through May 31, 2012, as well as cash disbursements for the same time period. From this grouping, the auditor looks at:
—A random sample of 25 cash disbursements.
—All disbursements in which the check was written out to “cash.”
—All disbursements in which the check was written to employees in excess of $20.
—Any disbursement that appeared to be written to a related third-party or unfamiliar vendor.
With that came the sudden movement of the school’s principal to the central office, the promotion of the assistant principal and an unknown future for one secretary.
Under state law, such school fund accounts must be maintained as a single bank account on which checks may be drawn. Those checks must be signed by the principal and a second person from a list of approved signatories.
The signatories at that time for BES were Principal Steve Russo, Assistant Principal Debbie Thompkins and secretary Penny Crappell.
Superintendent Donald Aguillard created a position at the Central Office Complex July 19 for Russo and promoted Thompkins to acting principal until the final audit report is received and the investigation is sorted out. Russo will be an instructional supervisor, in a position “commensurate with the principal job title,” Aguillard said.
Meanwhile, Crappell has been on medical leave since mid-May, according to the superintendent. A temporary secretary has been assigned to the school.
The Town of Berwick, where Crappell is a councilman, has been quiet on the issue.
Aguillard said the audit was triggered by a telephone call making allegations about financial practices regarding school activity funds. He said the school system chose three elementary schools at random, one in each maintenance district, to audit as a result of that call.