Ex-Tellico Plains Elementary PTO treasurer allegedly stole more than $22,000

Crime and Courts

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The former treasurer of the Tellico Plains Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization is facing a charge of theft for allegedly using thousands in school funds to pay for personal expenses like cellphone bills and birthday party supplies.

Jennifer Letner was indicted this month by a Monroe County grand jury on one count of theft over $10,000. According to a report from the Tennessee’s Comptroller’s Office, Letner admitted to stealing at least $22,932 while serving as the treasurer during the 2018-19 school year.

Investigators determined that Letner employed at least five schemes to misappropriate PTO funds for her own benefit as described below:

• Letner used the PTO debit card on at least 48 occasions to make personal purchases totaling at least $6,789. These purchased included payments for automobile loans, mobile phone service, purchases of birthday party supplies, and other personal items.
• Letner made 10 unauthorized over-the-counter cash withdrawals totaling $5,701 from the PTO account.
• Letner wrote and cashed PTO checks totaling $4,655 payable to her husband or herself. She signed the PTO president’s name on at least eight of the unauthorized checks.
• Letner used a PTO debit card to make 23 ATM cash withdrawals totaling at least $3,508.
• Letner wrote and cashed three PTO checks payable to cash totaling $2,279.

Investigators are also questioning $661 in unsupported disbursements from the PTO’s bank account. These purchases were not documented with itemized receipts or invoices, and investigators could not conclusively determine if they were exclusively for the benefit of the PTO.

Letner admitted to investigators that she was experiencing financial difficulties and used PTO funds to pay personal living expenses.

The report found that Tellico Plains Elementary Student Teacher Organization failed to establish and implement reasonable procedures for accounting, controlling and safeguarding PTO funds. Investigators found PTO officers did not require two signatures on checks and failed to require supporting documentation for other withdrawal of PTO funds.

“School support organizations must abide by state law to safeguard funds and property,” Comptroller Jason Mumpower said. “In this case, the treasurer was the only one who had access to the PTO bank account statements, and the PTO did not require two signatures on checks. These are just two examples of controls that can help prevent or detect fraudulent activity.”

To view the investigative report, go to comptroller.tn.gov/office-functions/investigations/find.html.

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