2013 File Photo/The Associated Press
The former chief financial officer of the Grand Prairie School District used armored trucks to help her steal more than half a million dollars from the district, according a federal grand jury indictment.
Carolyn Foster, 61, of Lewisville was arrested Monday by U.S. Secret Service agents and charged with one count of federal program theft after $ 600,000 was declared missing from district coffers,
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Wiley said.
Foster was arrested at the Richardson office of her current job at International Leadership of Texas, a charter school with several campuses in Dallas-Fort Worth. She pleaded not guilty in her initial court appearance Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge David L. Horan and was released on bond.
She faces up to 10 years in prison, plus a $ 250,000 fine if convicted.
‘A reprehensible act’
Grand Prairie Superintendent Susan Simpson Hull called the theft “a reprehensible act of selfishness and greed” and did not mince words about what she believes should happen to Foster, who left the district on Aug. 31, 2015.
“The school board and I stand in strong support of the law enforcement and criminal justice community in this process, and if these allegations are true, we urge that Carolyn Foster be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Hull said in a statement. “That someone serving in a position of authority of an organization whose job is to educate and nurture the children of our community would violate that sacred trust is unconscionable.”
Hull said the district will work with authorities to “retrieve every penny that was allegedly stolen, and we will work to make sure that such a despicable act will never happen again.”
Neither Foster nor her attorney could be immediately reached for comment.
According to a school district news release, the theft was discovered in September 2015 immediately after Foster left the district.
Officials notified Grand Prairie police, who then alerted the Secret Service about the thefts. That agency conducted the investigation and turned its findings over to Wiley’s office.
Foster, who was paid an annual salary of $ 149,500, is accused of using her position to gain access to cash in a vault in the GPISD administration building that was meant for awards to teachers and other needs, Hull said. The thefts took place for nearly a year and involved money withdrawn from district bank accounts and delivered by armored trucks to district offices.
Foster allegedly told finance department employees that the money was for special cash awards for teachers for school supplies and lawsuit settlements, but there were no such lawsuits on record, Hull said.
According to the superintendent’s statement, “Foster apparently was able to make a change in district financial procedures . . . which gave her the ability to quietly access the money.”
The school district released an audit of its financial practices in August 2015, just before Foster left the district. The audit revealed a lack of controls that “allowed a trusted employee of the district’s management to order large sums of cash without secondary approval or notification being sent immediately to a secondary contact at the district.”
Hull’s statement Tuesday said that the school district has now put new procedures in place that include multiple backups “to make sure that never again can a single person, even a high-ranking executive, on his or her own authority gain access to money that belongs to our schools.”
“By and large, schools have strong internal auditing departments,” Ginsburg said.
Ginsburg, a former CFO for Fort Bend ISD in Houston and Round Rock ISD in Austin, said dual control is one of the most important safeguards to prevent taxpayer money from being abused.
“When I started as a CFO, I didn’t have the authority to withdraw or move funds because I was at a higher level and there had to be oversight, so I wanted to be at arm’s length for those transactions,” Ginsburg said.
Foster was hired on a contract basis in April by International Leadership of Texas, where she helped transition the school to a new financial software program and was terminated upon her arrest, school spokeswoman Brittany Taylor said Tuesday. She said the charter school had no knowledge of the allegations against Foster.
“We were completely unaware of her previous circumstances,” Taylor said.
Wiley said his office rarely comes across cases of theft that go to this extent.
“Not where it was this blatant,” he said. “Most cases we come across involve people taking someone’s identity or fraud where some money is taken, but those cases always involve paper trails.
“But this case, it’s just the boldness of it. It’s staggering.”
Staff writers Caleb Downs, Holly Hacker and Sanya Mansoor contributed to this report.