A woman accused of embezzling nearly $75,000 from the Anchorage School District since 2007 while working at Chugiak High School made her first court appearance Friday at the Palmer courthouse.
Alaska State Troopers arrested Brenda Burge, 54, Thursday in the Mat-Su Valley on charges of first-degree theft, scheme to defraud and falsifying business records after Anchorage police obtained an arrest warrant for the former ASD supply clerk.
Police and ASD investigators believe Burge is responsible for pocketing an estimated $74,897.60 in activity fees and other student payments, mostly in cash, that she was responsible for transporting to ASD's accounting office while she worked at Chugiak.
In court documents, Anchorage Police Department financial crimes unit Detective Anthony Pate says Chugiak officials, including then-principal Rick Volk, discovered money missing from the school’s attendance office in February.
Volk told police that the school issues receipts for payments in triplicate, with one copy kept in the attendance office, one given to the person making the payment and one sent with that payment to ASD accounting.
A student had brought in an $85 receipt for a credit-recovery class she decided not to take, but ASD accounting hadn’t received the money or the receipt copy that should have accompanied it. The office also told Volk that Chugiak didn’t turn in much cash, which he thought was odd.
Volk had attendance office personnel conduct a spot check of receipts from the 2010-2011 school year; they found four cash payments for which ASD accounting had received neither the cash nor a receipt copy. He also found two cash payments and receipt copies from the school’s activities office -- which also issues receipts in triplicate -- that never reached ASD accounting.
A more extensive search of the attendance office’s records turned up 42 receipts, all for cash, which had never been taken to ASD -- and neither had the attached funds.
Volk began monitoring the school’s deposits to ASD, personally witnessing Burge receive two transfers in February containing a total of $460 in cash. Of that cash, ASD reported receiving only $30 -- the same amount listed on the accompanying deposit slip, which Burge had placed in the key-locked bank bag she delivered to the district.
Later in February, addititional funds were reported missing from a cash box maintained by Chugiak employee Gayle White, who was responsible for handing funds from the attendance office over to Burge for transport to ASD.
Volk suspected White might also be taking money, and APD included her and her vehicle as targets of a search warrant along with Burge. When police interviewed Burge in March, however, she said White wasn’t involved.
Officers searched Burge, finding several bills of cash which had previously been photocopied and were part of transfers entrusted to her. She told them she started taking money in 2006, after sustaining a work injury; at the time she was paying for a lawyer in a lawsuit over the injury, as well as dealing with the aftermath of a house fire and facing threats to have her house taken away.
Pate, the detective, says he asked Burge how much she thought she’d taken from Chugiak in total -- which a November forensic audit lists as $13,607.25 in the 2007-2008 school year, $22,567.57 in 2008-2009, $19,443.07 in 2009-2010, and $19,279.71 in 2010-2011.
“She said she really didn’t know because it was small amounts over time,” Pate wrote in court documents. “She guessed 7 or 8 thousand dollars. I told her we had found it to be closer to between 15 and 20 thousand each school year. She said ‘It does add up then, I guess.’”
Burge was escorted from the school after Pate spoke with her, and ASD terminated her employment later in March.
At Burge's arraignment Friday, a judge said she didn't pose a danger to the community but probably won't qualify for a court-appointed lawyer since she has about $10,000 in savings. She did not enter a plea, and is being held on $15,000 bail.
ASD has honored all funds paid by students and their families, and officials say accounting procedures have been strengthened since the embezzlement came to light.
Contact Ted Land at firstname.lastname@example.org