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Former School Secretary Charged With Embezzlement

Kristie Mitchell, a former Leesville Road Middle School secretary, is accused of stealing nearly $21,000 from the school's activity fund.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A former Wake County Public School System employee was charged Thursday with one count of embezzlement in connection with nearly $21,000 missing from the school system.

Kristie Mitchell, 40, of 4352 Pine Springs Court, was a lead secretary at Leesville Road Middle School and was employed by the school system from November 2003 until she resigned June 29, 2007, shortly after officials discovered irregularities during a routine audit, school system spokesman Greg Thomas said.

The audit found money had been taken from the school's Activity Fund and deposit slips had been altered, he said.

"Our auditors discovered what appeared to be some irregularities," Thomas said. "They vigorously investigated them. We acted upon it, and we will be seeking to get the money back."

Mitchell is out of jail on a $10,000 secured bond. She had no comment when she left the jail late Thursday morning.

Board of Education member Lori Millberg said Mitchell found a way to circumvent accounting software designed to prevent fraud and took small amounts of money over a period of time, which made it hard to trace.

"In this case, there was software that was supposed to be fool-proof that we bought, and she found a way around it," Millberg said.

In 2005 and 2006, seven people – including four former employees – were convicted in connection with a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme involving the school system's transportation department. At least $4 million was diverted from automotive parts spending and spent on high-priced luxury items for themselves.

As a result, school board members have said the school system has become much more aggressive in their audits. Millberg said this latest case is evidence the program is working.

"I think, if you run a business as big as ours and you never catch any fraud, that's not a very good sign," she said. "You have to catch some fraud to know your fraud system is working."

Millberg said Mitchell's arrest should serve as a warning to others.

"They need to know that we will catch it," she said. "It may take time. Even though you've gotten away with it for a short period of time, (it) does not mean you're home-free."

"Eventually, it will turn up, because eventually, we audit every school," she said.