Treasurer accused of stealing $35,000 from Sappington Elementary PTO

Police say suspect is on the run

Sappington Elementary

Sappington Elementary

By Gloria Lloyd

Police say a local woman is on the run after allegedly stealing $35,000 from the Sappington Elementary PTO while she served as the organization’s treasurer.

St. Louis County prosecutors charged Winifred Wright, 33, 11080 Golf Crest Drive, 63126, with one count of stealing over $25,000, a class B felony, after police said she wrote “numerous unauthorized” checks to herself from the account of Sappington Parent Teacher Group, or SPTG, from 2011 to 2014, when three other parents were informed that the organization’s bank accounts had been drained. Since the PTO raises all its own funds, none of the money missing is from taxpayers.

On June 16, 2014, outgoing SPTG Treasurer Wright set up a meeting with the group’s outgoing president and incoming president and treasurer of the group at the organization’s bank to hand over financial control of the account. However, Wright never showed for the meeting and bank officials informed the new officers that the PTO account had a negative balance of -$530.53, and a money market account had a balance of 4 cents. When the three officers contacted Wright’s husband, he said Wright had left town abruptly the day before and he did not know where she disappeared.

An investigation by the St. Louis County Police Department determined that Wright had stolen the group’s funds by writing herself checks, by withdrawing at least $2,447 from the account and by collecting $15,739.42 of profits the group raised through a fundraising company and not depositing the profits into the group’s account. The total amount stolen was $34,710.52 from June 2011 to June 2014, police said.

When police went to arrest Wright, she was gone.

“Police were unable to locate defendant to arrest her,” Officer Robert Wolff wrote in a probable cause statement. “Several times, defendant’s husband told police she had left town and that he did not know where she was. When police visited defendant’s residence in November 2014, it was apparently vacant.”

Lindbergh Schools Communications Director Beth Johnston said some positive news that came out of the events is that the organization never went into debt and was still able to fully fund all its regular events for Sappington Elementary despite the theft.

“We are very proud of the PTG officers for how professionally they have handled the entire situation,” she told the Call. “They have cooperated fully with authorities to help with the investigation in any way possible. In addition, they were fully transparent with the parents in the school and put several safeguards in place to ensure something like this does not happen again.”

After the investigation found the discrepancies last summer, the board of SPTG sent a letter home with Sappington parents to let them know about at least $12,000 of the missing funds and that the group was instituting controls on its operations to prevent a theft from happening again, including:

• Requiring two signatures on all checks, including the treasurer and another board member.

• All bank statements will be mailed directly to the school.

• All cash will be counted and signed off on by multiple parents.

• Board members will review all financial transactions at every board meeting.

• The current budget will include bank statements and be signed by the board.

SPTG supports events at the school throughout the year, including Grant’s Farm Night, Meet the Teacher Night and the upcoming Spring Fling.

Double-signing checks is one of the recommendations the Mehlville School District has in place for parent-run volunteer organizations. Last year, county prosecutors charged Oakville High School parent Kevin “Scott” Tate with stealing more than $11,000 from the account of the Oakville High soccer team’s booster club.