Updated: Former MCCPTA Treasurer Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement

Updated: Former MCCPTA Treasurer Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement

Silver Spring resident agrees to repay funds as part of plea deal

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Updated 4:54 p.m. Friday: The former treasurer of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs pleaded guilty Friday to embezzling about $39,000 from the organization.

Lisa Betts, 45, of Silver Spring, has agreed to repay the missing funds as part of her plea arrangement. She has already returned about $10,000 to the MCCPTA, a prosecutor told Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge David Boynton.

Betts was accused of taking funds from the MCCPTA by writing fraudulent checks between July 1, 2016, and March 31, 2017, when she was the group’s treasurer.

Her sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 17.

“I’m glad this stage is past,” Lynne Harris, MCCPTA’s president, said following the plea hearing. “We will participate fully in the sentencing hearing in January.”

Betts did not speak during her Friday court appearance except to answer yes-or-no questions asked by the judge.

The police investigation began in April when then-MCCPTA President Paul Geller filed a report about a suspected theft from the organization. The MCCPTA conducted its own internal review of the financial discrepancies that had come to light during its leadership meetings, Harris said.

Assistant State’s Attorney John Lalos said Betts forged Geller’s signature on MCCPTA checks. A total of 45 checks went missing under Betts’ watch, with 30 made out to cash, four issued directly to her and 11 unaccounted for, he said.

When MCCPTA leaders asked Betts about the missing checks, she explained them away by saying her secretary had spilled coffee on them, Harris said. She presented the audit review committee with a packet of false bank statements to conceal the fraudulent transactions, attorneys said Friday.

Harris said MCCPTA leaders questioned the statements after noticing some odd marks and irregularities in the font.

Lalos said Betts also served as treasurer of PTAs for Greencastle Elementary and Benjamin Banneker Middle schools and misappropriated funds while she was there. Although she told authorities she used the MCCPTA money to reimburse the local groups, there wasn’t enough documentation to back up her claim, he added.

Betts tapped into her retirement account to return $10,000 to the MCCPTA, according to Lalos. Her attorney, Oleg Fastovsky, said his client restored those funds to the organization before the internal audit committee was formed. However, Lalos pointed out that MCCPTA members had already started voicing their suspicions at that point.

After the hearing, Lalos said the timeline for Betts to pay restitution will be established during the sentencing. Boynton said Betts could receive a sentence of up to five years’ incarceration for the count of embezzlement, although guidelines developed by a state commission range between probation and six months in jail.

Fastovsky said his client was not a flight risk, noting that she’s married with children and has lived in Montgomery County for about 20 years. She works in Washington, D.C., as the vice president of a nonprofit trade association and has no prior criminal history, he said.

Fastovsky declined to comment following the hearing.

Boynton allowed Betts to remain free before her sentencing on a $25,000 personal bond and said she must appear at all future court hearings or face arrest and detention.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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