A local elementary school's Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) volunteer was arrested on Wednesday after officers determined she was stealing money from the school program.
In May, members of the Southside Elementary PTO went to the police to report missing funds. Members of the PTO explained to officers that the PTO has several different organizations within the PTO that all solicit and collect funds.
According to the PTO, one of the groups raising money, the “Southside Business Partners,” learned of the missing funds, which included stolen checks. Payment process for the PTO included checks and cash that were sent by parents and brought to the school by their children or they were dropped off at the office of the school. They were then placed in an open mail slot in an unsecured area of the office.
The PTO started to investigate the matter of stolen checks through emails to committee members and through questions at PTO meetings.
Officers followed the trail of stolen check and found that they were being deposited into Tiffani Donovan's personal bank account.
Donovan, 48, of Sarasota, had deposited 11 checks meant for the school into her bank account between July 4, 2016 and December 17, 2016, totaling $7,325.
All of the checks were never deposited into the PTO’s account. Every one of the 11 checks were made payable to the Southside PTO and hand endorsed by Donovan.
"We trust our volunteers and we will continue to trust our volunteers, but it's very heartbreaking," said PTO President Caprill Hembree.
Donovan was arrested on Wednesday and transported to the Sarasota County Jail. She has been charged with 11 counts of Uttering a Forged Check and one (1) count of Scheme to Defraud.
Sarasota County School District released the following statement:
The parent/volunteer who has been charged with depositing funds from Southside Elementary School’s Parent Teacher Organization into her personal bank accounts has been blocked from our volunteer list. She is no longer able to volunteer at any schools in our district, pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation. Although the PTO is an independent organization and the funds in question were not district funds, school and district personnel as well as members of the Southside PTO are cooperating with the Sarasota Police Department in the investigation.
The investigation is ongoing and additional charges are possible. Anyone with information on this case is asked to call Civilian Investigator Melody Shimmell at 941-954-7032 or leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers by calling 941-366-TIPS or online at www.sarasotacrimestoppers.com.
Note: This story has been updated with the Sarasota Police Department's changed statement clarifying that Donovan was a volunteer, NOT the president of the PTO.