After thousands go missing at Prince George's County schools, officials push for prosecution

Records from Prince George's County Public Schools show hundreds of thousands of dollars has gone missing or been unaccounted for over the last few years.

In some instances, staff members were suspected of stealing money, yet school officials say law enforcement was not notified and instead cases were handled internally.

Two school board members, Edward Burroughs and Raaheela Ahmed, are now working to create a new policy that would call for suspected theft cases to be turned over to police.

"I'm frustrated by the fact that we have bookkeepers or other employees every single year stealing large sums of money, and then we allow them to resign," said Burroughs at a December budget meeting. "I think we need to send a very strong message that those days are over and you will be prosecuted if you still from our system."

An internal audit shows that in 2014, nearly $14,000 went missing from the student activities fund at Crossland High School. According to the report, "it appears that the bookkeeper defrauded Crossland High School." A school spokesman says the bookkeeper agreed to pay back the money and is no longer an employee, but confirms police were not involved.

At Central High School in 2016, auditors investigating alleged theft from school sporting events say they found over $4,700 missing. They said staff responsible for the gate receipts should pay restitution.

In 2017 at Central, auditors say about $3,700 raised through school football program fundraisers also disappeared.

At Fort Washington Forest Elementary in 2017, auditors say a bookkeeper was responsible for $3,300 of missing money and was responsible for paying restitution.

And at Gwynn Park High School, auditors discovered in 2017 that a staff member operated a youth basketball camp at the school for 11 years and never paid facility fees. While not a suspected theft case, auditors say the school district lost out on half a million dollars from those unpaid fees.

Internal auditors compiled a list of all the missing funds cases from the last three school years (to include the case at Crossland), and the total figure was over $800,000.

Christian Rhodes, Chief-of-Staff for Interim PGCPS CEO Dr. Monica Goldson, says in cases where fault was found by an employee, the district sought full repayment of funds.

"This included garnishing employee pay or final payout if the employee was terminated," said Rhodes.

But Burroughs says restitution isn't enough.

"If you have stolen money from our students, simply paying the money back after we've already caught you is not sufficient," said Burroughs. "I think it's important that we prosecute these individuals to the fullest extent of the law to send a message to everyone that we will not allow you to steal from our students."

He said he and Ahmed will propose a new policy before the end of the school year, and have support from others on the board. He stressed that it's only a few employees who break the law.

"If you look at these individual cases, maybe one or two or three a year," he said. "And we have 22,000 employees in our organization who are doing the right thing every single day. But for those three employees who decide to steal from students, they need to know that we will send them to jail if they do that."

FOX 5 requested an interview with Goldson, but instead, she provided a statement reading:

Since my appointment, I have reviewed all active audits and action plans. I am monitoring each one to ensure compliance with the auditor's recommendations and our timeline for completion. I welcome independent reviews of our processes. I will continue to work with our Board of Education to ensure proper oversight and good stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

D.C., Fairfax County and Montgomery County public schools say they turn over suspected theft cases to law enforcement.

Following FOX 5's report Thursday evening, Goldson appeared to reverse course on Friday, announcing the district would refer the case to the Prince George's County State's Attorney Office for review.

"A recent media report detailed PGCPS' long-standing challenges with missing school funds and other abuse of resources. The reports have raised questions on the best course of action for holding wrongdoers accountable and ensuring PGCPS employees understand the consequences for these serious actions," Goldson's announcement read in part. "With this in mind, I am referring all cases of missing funds and alleged fraud dating back to 2015 to the Prince George's County State's Attorney's Office for review and possible prosecution. Moving forward, PGCPS will coordinate with law enforcement on any waste, fraud and abuse cases within the system."