By Sara Dunn
Three former employees of the Brewster Central School District‘s before and after school child care program have been arrested for allegedly stealing approximately $130,000 in fees paid by parents whose children attended the program, according to a joint statement released by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department and the school district.
The investigation into the stolen money was launched last spring after a routine review by the school district’s business office uncovered discrepancies in the program’s financial records. Brewster School Superintendent Dr. Jane Sandbank immediately notified the sheriff’s office.
For the last eight months the school district and Putnam County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Michael Nalbone cooperated closely to investigate the theft of funds from the program that eventually led to the arrest of former employee Brandi Wickliffe, a 36-year-old resident of Wappinger Falls, and her parents, 62-year old residents of Newburgh, Eric and Debra Thompson, who also worked at the before and after school program.
Wickliffe surrendered herself to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department on Jan. 9 2012 and was charged with Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a class “C” felony. It is alleged that Wickliffe stole more than $115,000.
The investigation revealed that she created a bank account and deposited the stolen money in it for personal use, including for a vacation to Disney World in Florida, a vacation at Lake George, food, gasoline, cell phone bills, rent, DVD rentals, insurance bills, entertainment tickets, hair cuts, manicures and clothing purchases.
Subsequently, on March 1, 2012, her parents Eric and Debra Thompson surrendered themselves to the sheriff’s department investigator and were arrested on charges they allegedly stole approximately $15,000 from the program by collecting additional salary for time not worked.
Both were charged with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a class “D” felony, and Debra Thompson also was charged with 12 counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, with each count being a class “E” felony, for allegedly filing fraudulent payment vouchers with the school district.
The $130,000 in stolen funds did not entail taxpayer money, as the Brewster Before and After School Child Care Program, which has operated out of the Garden Street Elementary School for more than 20 years and serves students ranging in age from kindergarten to middle schoolers, was funded through fees paid by parents with the idea that it would be a “break-even” program and provide child care services outside of school hours at an affordable price.
“This program was subject to the District’s routine annual audits as required by law. These audits never indicated any wrong doing. However, improvements in internal controls have been implemented throughout the District in order to make the occurrence of similar thefts unlikely in the future,” Dr. Sandbank said, adding praise for the investigative work conducted by law enforcement. “The Brewster Central School District is grateful to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office and the Putnam County District Attorney’s Office for their comprehensive investigation and prosecution of this matter.”
Putnam County Sheriff Donald B. Smith also commended the work of Investigator Nalbone and Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher York in conducting the investigation into the stolen funds.
“Investigators worked for months to gather enough evidence enabling them to arrest three individuals suspected of embezzling much-needed revenue from a public school system and using the money for their personal gain,” Sheriff Smith said. “These types of crimes are not only time consuming to investigate, but are injurious to the rightful owner of the money and violate the public’s trust.”
Wickliffe was arraigned before Brewster Village Justice Richard O’Rourke, remanded to the Putnam County Correctional Facility and was later released after posting $10,000 bail. She is due to appear in court on March 12. If Wickliffe is convicted of the grand larceny charge, she could be receive a sentence of up to 15 years in state prison.
Her parents, Eric and Debra Thompson were arraigned by Southeast Town Justice Gregory Folchetti and released without bail pending an April 3 court appearance.
If convicted of the charges filed against them, the Thompsons could both face sentences of up to seven years in state prison.
The sheriff’s department said the investigation into the allegedly stolen funds is ongoing.