Former MCCPTA Treasurer Charged With Embezzling Organization’s Money
Silver Spring resident scheduled for Nov. 17 plea hearing
This story was updated with additional information about the sentencing guidelines.
The former treasurer of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs was charged Wednesday with embezzling more than $39,000 from the organization, court documents show.
County prosecutors and a defense attorney for Lisa Betts, 45, of Silver Spring have reached an agreement in which she would enter a guilty plea and pay restitution to the MCCPTA, an association of parent-teacher organizations and parent-student-teacher organizations. The deal signed by Betts’ attorney indicates that the sentencing guidelines provided by a state commission are between probation and six months in jail.
In April, then-MCCPTA President Paul Geller filed a police report after the organization discovered that dozens of checks had gone missing from the organization. An internal audit team found about $39,000 in “inappropriate disbursements,” a total that represents nearly half the organization’s annual budget, current President Lynne Harris has said.
Harris also reported that about $10,000 had been returned to the MCCPTA bank account before the investigation began, leaving the organization short by $29,000. The shortfall left the group unable to hold its annual Presidents and Principals Dinner, the organization’s largest event, or to again hire a part-time office manager, Harris said by phone Wednesday.
Harris said the organization required two signatures on checks, but Betts is accused of signing the second person’s name. When bank statements arrived, Betts changed them to cover up transactions, then shared amended copies with other MCCPTA officials, Harris said.
Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office, said Betts’ deadline for returning the remaining money likely will be determined in time for her Nov. 17 plea hearing.
Court documents filed Wednesday in Montgomery County Circuit Court accuse Betts of misappropriating the funds between July 1, 2016, and March 31, 2017, “to a use and purpose contrary to the requirements of her trust responsibilities.”
Neither Betts nor her attorney, Oleg Fastovsky, immediately responded to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Betts became MCCPTA treasurer on July 1, 2016, and submitted her letter of resignation in late March, Harris said. Geller did not officially accept her resignation until the following month, she added.
Betts has also been active in PTAs at Greencastle Elementary and Benjamin Banneker Middle schools, according to Harris.
Korionoff said he did not know of any investigation going beyond the MCCPTA.
Prosecutors filed charges against Betts in circuit court the same day the plea agreement was signed. Korionoff said this approach is not unusual in white-collar crime cases of this kind.
“If there is substantial evidence to point this in the direction of a plea, where someone is taking responsibility for their acts and is going to admit to their crime and is taking the steps to make this whole …, it is not unusual to have a pre-indictment plea,” Korionoff said.
The case file did not include details about the investigation, and Korionoff said he could not share additional information about it. However, he said police forwarded the case file to prosecutors early in the summer.
Harris said the MCCPTA has focused on good financial practices since the investigation began.
There are three signatories on the organization’s bank account, and all have access to the banking records. The MCCPTA has also stopped using paper bank statements and is receiving them electronically, Harris said.
Now, during board of directors meetings, MCCPTA leadership logs into the account so members can check the balance for themselves, she added. Some of these measures might have prevented financial discrepancies from going undetected last year, Harris said.
“She (Betts) wrote checks to cash. She wrote checks to herself. She wrote checks to vendors that MCCPTA had no relationship with. … Looking at the electronic statements would have revealed pretty directly that something was fishy,” Harris said.
While MCCPTA has had to tighten its belt because of the situation, Harris said she hopes its recent frugality will enable it to regain its financial footing and hire another part-time office manager.
The MCCPTA has also been working with its insurers and the bank to recover some of the lost money, Harris said.
MCCPTA member Laura Stewart, who served on the audit team, also noted Wednesday that the case has occupied attention that the organization could have spent on education issues.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.