For the second time in as many months, a local elementary school has reported that a parent-teacher club treasurer is suspected of embezzling thousands of dollars raised by students and parents.
Kristen Soprito of Gresham, the former treasurer of the Kelly Creek Elementary School Parent-Teacher Club, is under investigation by Gresham police and the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office for reportedly stealing at least $10,000 from the club's fund over more than two years, according to a Gresham police report.
School Principal Nancy Torbert sent a letter last week to local families alerting them to 'inappropriate banking activities' with the parent-teacher club account between August 2009 and October 2011.
'The account in question was closed, and all money earned this year is accounted for and safe,' she wrote.
The principal reported the case to police on Dec. 12, less than two weeks after The Outlook reported that Jenifer Lynn Sayles, a Gresham woman who volunteered as treasurer of the Orient Parent Teacher's Club - which raises money on behalf of both East Orient Grade School and West Orient Middle School - allegedly stole more than $11,000 from the Orient club.
At first, it appeared that as much as $17,000 was stolen from Kelly Creek's club, 'but some has been returned,' bringing the latest estimates down to $10,000, said Sgt. Claudio Grandjean, Gresham police spokesman.
Neither Soprito nor Sayles has been arrested or indicted. A message left for Soprito asking for comment on the case was not returned.
Deputy District Attorney Dennis Shen said his office is investigating the more recent case involving Soprito and is working with Sayles' defense attorney on a possible negotiated settlement.
Embezzlement suspects often are not initially arrested or indicted because the investigations are so labor intensive.
'Even after an arrest, there's still a lot of documentation and investigation that needs to be done,' Shen said.
But embezzlers almost always face criminal charges.
'If we can charge these cases, we will,' he said. 'These people, a lot of them, do cooperate,' and that makes it easier to successfully prosecute them while ensuring the victim is repaid, Shen said.
Officers from Kelly Creek's parent-teacher club discovered the alleged embezzlement in December, but the discovery process dated back to last summer, said Michelle Kahan, club president.
That's when new board members, including a new treasurer, were being trained. Part of that included solidifying financial information and turning the accounting reins over to the new treasurer.
But by August, Soprito had only turned over the club's checkbook without providing any bank statements or other financial documents, Kahan said.
'She just kept putting it off,' Kahan said.
After a variety of delays and obstacles, the new treasurer found herself having a hard time accessing the club's account. Finally, in December - shortly after hearing about embezzlement allegations involving the Orient Parent Teacher Club's treasurer - Kelly Creek's parent-teacher club officers accessed the club's account and bank statements.
'It was very apparent there were some unauthorized transactions,' Kahan said. 'It (the balance) was quite a bit less than it should have been.'
And the reason for the lack of bank statements and paper trail: Soprito reportedly changed the club's account to an online account.
'It was really a complete shock because that person was very much trusted,' Kahan said.
Now, club officers are left trying to figure out what projects on its wish list will be funded given the shortage of money.
'There's just so much need right now,' Kahan said, adding that the money - raised by students selling entertainment books, cookie dough, movie tickets and holiday greenery, among other fundraisers - was budgeted to pay for field trips, books and classroom computers.
'We're just trying to figure out how we go forward,' she said.
Club officers also are putting into place accounting safeguards in accordance with the school district to make sure this never happens again. For example, all board members need to know the proper accounting processes, not just the treasurer, Kahan said.
The Gresham-Barlow School District has provided all of its parent-teacher clubs with an 'internal control checklist' so they can analyze their procedures and make changes to discourage theft while protecting their assets, said Athena Vadnais, spokeswoman for the district.
'It is troubling to learn that a second parent-teacher club in our district has allegedly been the victim of embezzlement,' she said. 'We continue to remind parent-teacher club officers of the importance of consistent internal financial controls. A pro-active approach to internal financial controls can aid the clubs in recognizing and preventing problem situations before they start.'
To that end, the Kelly Creek club is inviting parents, teachers and other concerned residents to the club's meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 6, at Kelly Creek Elementary School, 2400 S.E. Baker Way. Officers hope to hear any concerns, as well as get feedback on new financial controls, and will vote to add new accounting procedures to the club's bylaws.