Former Chugiak High clerk paying back stolen money

Thursday, November 8, 2012 - 03:12
Court orders $60,000 in restitution

Brenda Burge is paying back the cash she stole from Chugiak High.

The 55-year-old Wasilla woman and former Chugiak High supply clerk last month entered a guilty plea to one count of first-degree theft.

As part of a plea agreement filed in Anchorage District Court, Burge must repay $60,000. She prepaid $12,000 before she entered her guilty plea.

Burge, through her attorney, declined to comment for this story.

But her attorney, Greg Parvin, described Burge as a longtime Anchorage School District employee — she spent 29 years with the district — devastated by her “terrible mistake.”

Parvin said Burge’s decision to start stealing the money came after serious health issues in 2005 racked up medical bills and then a 2009 fire destroyed her home.

“It was just a bad decision that came on the heels of a desperate situation,” he said. “She feels terrible about everything and she intends to make full restitution as soon as possible.”

Generally, a defendant is expected to repay restitution within the period of their probation.

Prosecutors originally accused Burge of stealing more than $74,897 in cash while handling students’ activities and attendance fees. Parvin said the lower number of her restitution reflects the fact that investigators discovered other people were also stealing money from Chugiak.

In an unrelated case, former high school employee Gayle White faces theft charges after prosecutors say White also stole money from Chugiak and East High School. The case came to light earlier this year. White faces three felony charges including first-degree theft. Her case is still making its way through the court system; she has a hearing scheduled for Nov. 15.

Burge, with no prior convictions, received a suspended sentence and five years of probation, said assistant district attorney Jonas Walker. That means she’ll have the chance to have the conviction set aside “if she performs well,” Walker wrote in an email.

Burge’s conditions of probation require she repay the rest of the money and not commit other crimes. She’s also supposed to serve six months of jail, Walker said. Parvin said she’s in Corrections custody, via an ankle monitor.

Her embezzlement first came to light in February 2011, according to the complaint prosecutors filed last year.

A distraught Patty Zmuda, Chugiak’s attendance secretary, informed principal Rick Volk that money was missing from the attendance area. It was part of Burge’s job to take money from the attendance and activities offices to the Anchorage School District accounting office for deposit.

Volk told school resource officer Wendi Shackelford, and an investigation began into the disappearance of $85 a student paid for a class she ended up not taking. The parent of another student, expecting payment for a book, also called the school.

According to the indictment, after Volk contacted the Anchorage School District accounting office, it was discovered the district had neither the money nor the receipt for the student’s $85 fee. The documents say Volk was told at that time by the district that Chugiak didn’t turn in much cash, “which he thought was odd.”

Burge’s actions escaped notice because she never turned in receipts. Rather than depositing the cash — typically small amounts less than $500 — with the district, Burge pocketed much of the money.

The charging documents say Burge claimed she had kept the receipts that were supposed to go to the district, but that many burned in the house fire. She told investigators she first started taking money after incurring medical bills from an on-the-job injury, and that she meant to pay the money back.

Burge was fired shortly after the allegations came to light. Her last day at the school was March 15, 2011, when she was escorted off Chugiak property.

In April, 2011, White was also discovered to have been embezzling money from the school and fired.

The ASD has since changed its accounting procedures to ensure such thefts can’t happen in the future.

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