Juvenile Office bookkeeper charged with embezzlement

Thursday, September 12, 2002

TAKING SCHOOLS' MONEY

By Sam Blackwell ~ Southeast Missourian

On Tuesday, Robin Michelle Whitson bought a mobile home for $5,000. Wednesday the Cape Girardeau woman was charged with embezzling more than $97,000 from the Cape Girardeau County Juvenile Office where she worked as a bookkeeper.

She is charged with depositing 10 checks meant for the Cape Girardeau and Jackson public schools into her personal bank account. The deposits began on Sept. 17, 2001. The tenth check was deposited at the end of August, investigators say.

The checks ranged in amounts from $6,000 to $13,766.99. Whitson's account balance was $1,259 on Tuesday, the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department said.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said the alleged embezzlement was discovered when the Cape Regional Credit Union where Whitson was depositing the checks returned the latest one because of an improper endorsement. According to Cape Girardeau County Auditor Weldon Macke, it had not been endorsed at all.

Authorities said each of the checks was deposited at the credit union's ATM.

Macke and Cape Girardeau County Treasurer Bill Reynolds notified Swingle of the check on Sept. 5.

Fake endorsements

Swingle said Whitson had signed the checks with fake endorsements. But in one case, with a check dated Feb. 20 deposited in her account, she signed her own name.

It's inevitable it would have been caught. Swingle said.

Authorities said the missing checks were not logged in at the Juvenile Office.

The funds were from a juvenile justice grant written by and run by chief juvenile officer Randy Rhodes. Checks were mailed from the state to the Juvenile Office to be used for alternative school programs in Cape Girardeau, Bollinger and Perry counties.

According to the sheriff's department, the state checks were mailed to Whitson. She was supposed to forward the checks to the county treasurer for deposit in the general fund.

When the schools submit their requests for juvenile justice funds each month, the bookkeeper then sends a purchase order to the county auditor asking for a check to be issued to the schools. Those checks to the schools were routed through the bookkeeper.

Some checks deposited into Whitson's account came directly from the state and some checks were written by the county treasurer, authorities say.

How the credit union deposited in an individual account checks ostensibly endorsed by a public entity is unclear.

Only one of the checks, for $6,292.33, was payable to the Jackson alternative school. Seven checks totaling more than $70,000 were payable to the Cape Girardeau Public Schools. Mark Bowles, superintendent of the schools, said the schools have been talking with Whitson over the last three years in an attempt to get an accounting of how the money is drawn out.

"The way they have required that we draw it down, she has been very rigid in how she was going to do it," he said.

Changing procedures

Rob Huff, the district's chief financial officer, said the district depends heavily on whomever is managing the grant to track revenue and expenses. Since the missing funds came to light, the district has changed some procedures to get more people involved in billing and deposits.

The district's end-of-the-year audit is just being completed. "We would have caught it," Huff said. "I would have liked to have caught it much sooner."

In a statement released to the media, Rhodes said Whitson resigned her position as secretary/bookkeeper Wednesday. He also said he has asked for a meeting with the auditor to examine the procedures for receiving and dispersing grant money.

Attempts to reach him for further comment were unsuccessful.

Whitson, 38, was charged Wednesday with 10 counts of felony stealing. All 10 counts together carry a total possible penalty of 70 years in prison and up to $50,000 in fines.

Associate Circuit Judge Gary Kamp set Whitson's cash-only bond at $100,000.

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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