2012-03-01 / Front Page / School News

Three ex-employees of day-care program busted for stealing

Money went to vacations, manicures, entertainment
Eric Gross

Three former employees of the Brewster School District’s “Before and After School Child Care Program” are facing grand larceny charges for allegedly stealing $130,000 in school funds during the past eight months.

The Putnam Sheriff’s Department reported the arrests Monday of Brandi Wickliffe, 36, of Wappingers Falls and her parents, Eric and Debra Thompson, both 62, of Newburgh, in connection with the scam.

The program has been operating at the Garden Street School for more than 20 years providing child care services to 65 children, ranging from 5-year-olds to middle school children. The program was intended to be financially self sufficient without taxpayer support. Funded by parent fees, the program was designed to break even in order to provide the community with reasonably cost child care services.

Sheriff Donald Smith said an investigation was launched last spring after a routine review by the district’s Business Office uncovered discrepancies in the program’s financial records.

Smith said Superintendent of Schools Jane Sandbank notified “our office when discovering that the funds had been stolen.”

Investigator Michael Nalbone led the query that led to the arrests.

Wickliffe surrendered herself and following arraignment in Brewster Village Court was sent to the Putnam Correctional Facility on $10,000 bail which was later posted. She is due back in court March 12.

Chief Sheriff's Investigator A. Gerald Schramek said Wickliffe allegedly stole more than $115,000 in program revenue for her personal use: “She spent the money for vacations in Disney World and at Lake George as well as for food, gasoline, cell phone bills, rent, DVDs, insurance bills, entertainment tickets, haircuts, manicures and for clothing purchases.”

The Thompsons also surrendered at the Sheriff’s Office last week. Smith said the couple was responsible for stealing $15,000 in overpaid salary by collecting money for services that were not performed.

Debra Thompson was additionally charged with 12 counts of falsifying business records for reportedly filing fraudulently payment vouchers with the district.

The Thompson's were arraigned in Southeast and were released without bail pending April 3 court hearings.

Sandbank said the program was subject to the “district's routine annual audit that indicated nothing was wrong. Improvements in internal controls have been implemented district-wide in order to make the occurrence of similar thefts unlikely in the future.”

Sheriff Smith described the case as being “extremely difficult. Investigators worked for months to gather sufficient evidence, enabling them to arrest the trio suspected of embezzling needed revenue from a public school system. Such crimes are not only time-consuming but are injurious to the rightful owner of the money and violate the public's trust.”

District Attorney Adam Levy said Wickliffe faces up to 15 years in state prison if found guilty of the Class C felony while her parents  may be sent to state prison for up to seven years if found guilty of the Class D felony offense.



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