With information from top school district officials and a stack of canceled checks totaling $47,600, Payson police served a search warrant on the home of the district's former accounting supervisor earlier this month. There, they found a pile of personal bills suggesting the employee has been using district funds for the past few years to pay her own debts.
The 19-year employee of the school district resigned her position last week and was unavailable for comment this week.
"She gave no reason for her retirement," District Superintendent Herb Weissenfels said.
Weissenfels, who has arranged for an independent audit of the district's books, said he first learned of the allegations Sept. 3, when Business Manager Bobette Sylvester brought him suspicious records. Weissenfels told Sylvester to dig a little deeper, and by Sept. 7, had found enough information to alert the police department.
"It was discovered by a well-heeled CPA," Weissenfels said.
The following day, Police Det. Steve Johnson obtained a search warrant, and conducted a search of the woman's home located on school district property.
"What she had done is written several checks, and put the account numbers at the bottom," Johnson said. "It looks like this has been going on since at least spring of 1996."
In searching the employee's records, investigators discovered personal bills with account numbers that corresponded with the numbers on canceled checks from the district office. As of Monday, those checks totaled $47,600.
Police believe the woman had been using the district's revolving expenditure account to pay her own bills.
During questioning, the woman told detectives she had borrowed funds from that account, but she had paid it all back.
If an independent audit by the school district's insurance company fails to locate the missing funds, the insurance company will cover the missing money, Weissenfels said.
"That account is mainly for quick bills -- for things that you have to pay tomorrow," he said. "It's used for meal reimbursements, teachers going to seminars, things that have to be paid for quickly."
That account carries a maximum balance of $7,000, and most of the checks written on the account range from $2 to $300, the superintendent said.
Weissenfels said there are checks and balances in place regarding district expenditures, but a knowledgeable accountant could have bypassed them.
"It's like in computers," he said. "You can build a firewall, but somebody will still get through it."
"She was a trusted employee," said Police Chief Gordon Gartner, a former school board member. "We all have trusted employees, whether you're a bank or a newspaper."
Detectives stress that the investigation is still in the preliminary stages. They will forward the information to the Gila County Attorney's Office this week to determine what charges, if any, will be filed.
Editor's Note: It is the newspaper's policy to print the names of suspects only after charges have been filed or an arrest has been made.