Local News

Wake County School Focus of Missing Money Probe

Posted February 18, 2008 8:57 p.m. EST
Updated February 18, 2008 9:35 p.m. EST

— Three and a half years after a major fraud investigation, another case of missing money at a Wake County School is raising eyebrows.

The school system said a routine audit last summer may have found missing money at Leesville Middle School tied to uncashed checks that were tucked away.

Parent Lisa Boneham said the new Leesville principal confirmed during a December meeting that there was an investigation into missing money at the school.

“She did mention (uncashed) checks in odd places in the school – file drawers and storage closets," Boneham said.

School system officials said as much as $50,000 may be unaccounted for.

This probe comes after the 2004 multimillion-dollar fraud scandal at the school system's Transportation Department.

“It makes you wonder where the accountability was,” Boneham said.

Wake County School Board Member Lori Millberg said the system's own audit process – ramped up after the last fraud scandal – caught the Leesville problem.

“This is really evidence that our system is working. If you have a business the size of ours and you never identified an irregularity, that probably means you don't have a good control system,” Millberg said.

As a result of the investigation, the school system also identified a flaw in its financial record-keeping software and said that may have helped the Leesville problem evolve.

The school system has notified the maker of SchoolFunds software, TRA  School Software Solutions of Wilmington, and changes were made.

"The minute it was identified, it was stopped," Millberg said.

Once an audit is complete, Millberg said police will likely began investigating.

“I'd like to just know where the money went because it does affect programs in the school,” Boneham said.

In August 2004, officials began a fraud investigation that found at least $4 million was diverted from the Wake County Public School System in a scheme involving automotive-parts orders, then-employees of the Transportation Department and a Wilson-based automotive parts company, Barnes Motors & Parts.

Investigators said the suspects submitted fake orders for auto parts and bought gift cards, trucks, boats, trailers and other high-priced items for themselves with the money that supposedly was going for parts.

Seven people, including five former school system employees and two former Barnes' employees, were convicted and sentenced for their roles in the fraud scheme. Sentences ranged from 60 days to 11 years in prison.

The Wake County school system has recovered an estimated $5 million.