Ex-Charleroi Area cafeteria workers face theft charges
By Stacy Wolford
Published: Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, 1:21 a.m.
Two former Charleroi Area School District cafeteria employees are accused of stealing more than $93,000 in student lunch money and gambling it away at a casino.
Stacy Lee Shipley, 50, of 301 Meadow Ave., and Sheila Ann Cook, 49, of 1112 Lincoln Ave., both of Charleroi, were arraigned Thursday morning by Charleroi Magisterial District Judge Larry Hopkins on charges related to the theft of cafeteria funds from the high school/middle school over a two-year period.
Shipley was charged with theft by unlawful taking or disposition, dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activities, theft by failure to make the required disposition of funds, and forgery.
Cook was charged with criminal conspiracy, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities and receiving stolen property.
The investigation began Nov. 2 when district business manager Crystal Zahand and former food service director Andy Bergman told Superintendent Dr. Brad Ferko about discrepancies in cafeteria financial records.
Ferko contacted Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone, who triggered an investigation by state Trooper Matthew P. Gavrish of the Belle Vernon barracks.
According to an affidavit of probable cause filed by Gavrish, a forensic audit conducted by accountant Thomas DeMillion confirmed that $93,987.36 had been stolen from the cafeteria account from Aug. 1, 2010, through Oct. 29.
Shipley was in charge of daily deposits from cafeteria sales. Instead of putting the money in the school safe or administration office, which was standard procedure, she took the cash home for her own “personal use,” according to the affidavit.
Shipley would then allegedly bring checks from the stolen deposit back to the school and alter daily sales at her register.
Police claim she would keep cash processed through her register that day and document it as if the sales were paid with a check, according to the affidavit.
Shipley then placed the stolen checks – which had already been processed – back into her drawer so it would balance for the day, police claim.
According to the affidavit, Cook was aware Shipley was stealing money.
The women used the money to gamble at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane Township – with the “understanding that anything that either would win would split 50-50,” according to the affidavit.
Police allege that at the casino, Shipley would routinely give Cook $100 to $300 with which to gamble.
They planned trips to The Meadows whenever Shipley told Cook she had “extra money,” which meant more money had been taken from the cafeteria, according to the affidavit.
Shipley allegedly admitted to the thefts Nov. 21 after being questioned by Gavrish. She said she spent all, or nearly all, of the money at The Meadows. Shipley resigned from her job in December.
On Dec. 28, Gavrish interviewed Cook, who allegedly admitted to the thefts and gambling. Cook told Gavrish she “just got caught up in the thrill of it all.”
On Dec. 13, state police served a search warrant at The Meadows requesting Players Club information from the time of the alleged thefts.
The search showed that the women spent $350,482.95 at the Meadows over a two-year period. That amount includes money wagered, complimentary food and beverages and other rewards they received, records indicate.
Following Shipley's arraignment, defense attorney Ray Amatangelo said his client is “very remorseful,” and is seeking treatment for a gambling addiction.
She had worked for the district for several years, he said.
“She's a good lady and a lifelong resident of Charleroi. She has two kids in the district,” Amatangelo said. “She is acknowledging responsibility and recognizes she has a gambling addiction.”
He said Shipley has been attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings for about three months.
Cook, who did not have an attorney with her at her arraignment, declined comment afterward.
Hopkins released both women, each on $50,000 unsecured bond, and scheduled preliminary hearings for 10 a.m. Feb. 25.
Ferko recently said the stolen money will not affect student accounts and that parents would receive full credit for money sent in for meals.
Stacy Wolford is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-684-2640 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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