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Cafeteria funds theft probed in Charleroi

| Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

Charleroi Area officials, state police and the Washington County District Attorney's office are jointly investigating money allegedly missing from the district's cafeteria funds.

School District Superintendent Dr. Brad Ferko said he was made aware of some concerns involving cafeteria finances Nov. 2. He credited business manager Crystal Zahand and former food services director Andy Bergman with alerting him to indiscretions in the account. Bergman, employed by food service contractor Nutrition Inc. in West Newton, was recently promoted to a regional manager position in the company.

“We had inklings of suspicious activity and followed up with a district fiscal audit,” Ferko said.

Ferko declined to comment on the amount of money missing, saying the investigation, including an external audit, is ongoing.

“We're in process of conducting a fiscal audit and investigating key witnesses, so to name a (dollar) figure would be irresponsible,” Ferko said.

State Police Trooper Matt Gavrish of the Belle Vernon Barracks said charges are pending in the case. He said state police have a couple of people of interest in the case and are finalizing charges, which he expects to file in a week to 10 days.

Gavrish said more than one person could be charged.

At the board's reorganization meeting Tuesday, the board accepted the resignation of cafeteria employee Stacey Shipley.

The resignation was tabled at the board's Nov. 27 meeting on the advice of solicitor Mike Lucas, pending receipt of a formal letter of resignation from Shipley.

Ferko declined to comment on Shipley's resignation as a cook's helper.

In her letter of resignation, Shipley wrote that she “appreciated the opportunity to work” in the district. She gave no reason for her resignation.

Ferko said the district is doing a complete audit of all funds received into the cafeteria account. He said the money allegedly missing does not affect student accounts. Parents are being given full credit for all money sent in to the district for student meals.

“We're doing everything we can to reconcile all moneys missing,” Ferko said. “Everything parents sent in has been accounted for.”

Asked the time frame for the investigation, Ferko said it would continue “until we have all perpetrators, the money is returned and the issue is settled.”

“The Charleroi Area School District, in conjunction with state police and the district attorney's office, is doing everything within our power,” Ferko said. “Any and all funds taken from this district are either covered through restitution or the fact that the district is protected through insurance.

“The district is doing every in its power to ensure that the responsible people are brought to justice. This is not just verbiage; this is a reality. The board administration and the state police will ensure that justice is served.

“We will not have people steal from this district.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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