Former Charleroi cafeteria workers charged in $94K theft

Paul Peirce
| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 10:18 a.m.

Two former Charleroi School District cafeteria workers have been charged with stealing nearly $94,000 in food- service funds to feed a gambling habit at a Washington County casino, officials said on Thursday.

Stacy Lee Shipley, 50, and Sheila Ann Cook, 49, both of Charleroi, were accused of using money that students paid for daily meals to gamble at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane, according to District Attorney Eugene A. Vittone. Police said both women admitted to the thefts.

Vittone said Shipley was responsible for making daily cafeteria deposits and would routinely keep some of the cash, which she would share with Cook.

Shipley often would take the daily proceeds home with her — some cash, some checks — then return the checks to school the next day and alter the books to reflect that only checks had been received on the previous day, Vittone said.

After Shipley's arraignment before Charleroi District Justice Larry Hopkins, her attorney, Ray Amatangelo, said she is “very remorseful” and has attended Gamblers Anonymous meetings for about three months. She had worked for the district for several years, he said.

In December, state police served a search warrant on The Meadows for records from its Players Club, which tracks how much gamblers wager and offers rewards based on their level of play.

The records showed the women had spent $350,482 in the casino from August 2010 through October 2012, Vittone said. That amount includes money wagered, complimentary food and beverages and other rewards they received, records indicate.

Cook was aware that Shipley was stealing money, and the women agreed “that anything either of them would win they would split 50/50,” court records show.

During each visit to the casino, Shipley would give Cook between $100 and $300 to gamble, documents indicate.

Shipley admitted to the thefts on Nov. 21 when police questioned her, records show. She said she spent “almost, if not all of the money” at The Meadows, officials said. Shipley resigned from her job in December.

On Dec. 28, police interviewed Cook, who also admitted to the thefts and said she “just got caught up in the thrill of it all,” according to court records.

The investigation began when school district officials began to notice cash was missing and contacted state police in Belle Vernon, Vittone said.

The district performed an audit, which showed $93,987 was missing from the food service department, he added.

Amatangelo said his client is “a good lady and a lifelong resident of Charleroi. She has two kids in the district. She is acknowledging responsibility and recognizes she has a gambling addiction.”

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. She was not accompanied by an attorney at her arraignment and declined to comment.

Hopkins released both women on $50,000 unsecured bond and scheduled their preliminary hearings for Feb. 25.

Charleroi Superintendent Brad Ferko said the district will recover the missing money and the cost of the audit through its insurance. He also said the district has begun a new cash collection system in the food service department.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or writer Stacy Wolford of the Valley Independent contributed to this report.

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