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Clarkston students gather with school administrators, PTA officers, deputies, and Clarkston State Bank officials to receive a ceremonial check for $12,000. The students attended Sashabaw Middle School during the years when money was stolen from their PTA account. Photo by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)
February 23, 2011 - When Sashabaw Middle School Parent Teacher Association officers found discrepancies in their financial records in 2008, volunteers spent more than a thousand hours unraveling an elaborate, multi-year embezzlement scheme.

It took awhile, but the money is now repaid to Clarkston students and parents.

"It's been nearly three years since this started and we're all excited for the students to have these funds," said Patti Hayes, president of SMS PTA , Feb. 16. "From the beginning, it was the position of our Board of Directors that most of the restitution money will go back to the kids from whom it was stolen."

Diane Weller, former Clarkston PTA treasurer, pled guilty in September 2009 to embezzling about $27,000 from SMS and Pine Knob Elementary PTA groups. Terms of the plea agreement included full restitution to the schools, minus a $250 insurance deductible and some minor fees.

"It was a devastating revelation, but through the efforts of an entire community we are here today to finally give that money back to the students for whom it was originally intended," said Andrea Schroeder, president of Clarkston High School PTA.

Sashabaw Middle School received $16,700 in restitution. The PTA calculated how much would have been spent directly on student programs, and voted to give that amount back to the classes involved. It was about $4,000 for each class, $12,000 total. The remaining $4,700 goes to staff, school, and PTA programming. PTA is donating the funds to technology devices for classrooms.

Pine Knob parents voted to use its $9,500 in restitution funds for scholarships for high school seniors who attended PKE two $300 scholarships each year through 2017, about $4,200.

The rest will go to long-term emergency fund, media center, classroom supplies, physical education equipment, and technology including laptops and microscopes.

Schroeder thanked Oakland County Sheriff deputies, county prosecutors, Clarkston State Bank, Clarkston Community Schools administration, and other community members who helped the PTA through the discovery and legal process.

Weller is still paying restitution to the court to reimburse the PTA's insurance company. She's still on probation and must repay the full amount by August 2013. If she doesn't pay in full, felony embezzlement charges will be reinstated.

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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