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Penn Hills police investigating suspected credit card abuse in school district

| Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 11:24 p.m.

School district policy establishes checks and balances within the Penn Hills School District aimed at preventing credit card abuse.

District officials declined to comment Tuesday about whether employees followed the procedures.

Officials reported possible misuse of a district credit card or cards by employees to the Penn Hills police Monday because an in-house audit of business practices spotted possible problems.

The district's policy on credit card use specifies that department heads and their employees can use the cards and must submit receipts that the business office reconciles with bills.

The cards may be used for emergency repairs, registration fees, travel expenses, utility bills and “food for use in curriculum.”

Board members did not return calls seeking comment.

In a prepared statement, district officials said Superintendent Nancy Hines offered police what “the district believes to be documented evidence of theft and fraud.”

“We're still in the preliminary investigation. But if there's money missing, it doesn't seem to be a significant amount,” Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton said, declining to give more details.

He said Business Affairs Director Rick Liberto isn't being investigated.

District officials placed Liberto on paid administrative leave March 24.

Some board members maintain they did not know that the district ended the 2013-14 school year with a $9 million shortfall and blame the business office for not informing district leaders.

Liberto said Tuesday that his office tracked credit card use.

“There are checks and balances in place,” he said.

The district has a Home Depot credit card for emergency repairs and procurement cards for other expenses, Liberto said.

The Home Depot card is kept in a safe in the business office and is signed out and signed back in by the business office assistant, he said. Procurement cards are kept by administrators, he said.

State Auditor General's Office spokeswoman Susan Woods said school districts often turn investigations into possible misuse of public funds over to the FBI or state police, but it is not uncommon for districts to report theft to local police as well.

The school board is scheduled to meet Wednesday night to approve a loan of up to $18 million to cover day-to-day expenses. The loan will likely lead to a tax increase of about 1 mill.

The meeting is set for 7 p.m. in Linton Middle School on Aster Street.

Kelsey Shea is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7845 or kshea@tribweb.com.

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