Second Chugiak clerk charged with theft from school

Monday, November 21, 2011 - 13:40
Burge was one of two employees alleged to have stolen from school; the other, Gayle White has already been convicted and sentenced

A former Chugiak High supply clerk accused of stealing more than $74,000 over a four-year period from the school was arraigned on charges of theft, scheme to defraud and falsifying business records in Palmer District Court on Friday, Nov. 18. All three charges are felonies.

According to charging documents in the case, Brenda Burge, 54, of Wasilla, pilfered $74,897 in cash while handling students’ activities and attendance fees.

Burge’s bail was set at $15,000 with no third-party custodian. A warrant for her arrest was issued Nov. 15, and she was arrested on Thursday, Nov. 17 in Wasilla. As of Monday, Nov. 21, she was no longer in custody.

Prosecutors said Burge’s request for a public defender was denied.

Burge’s alleged embezzlement first came to light in February, when attendance secretary Patty Zmuda informed Chugiak principal Rick Volk that there was money missing from the attendance area at the school. Volk told school resource officer Wendi Shackelford, and an investigation began into the disappearance of $85 that a female student had paid for a class she ended up not taking.

According to the indictment (/Burge Complaint.pdf), 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."

According to the indictment, when police and school officials began digging into the school’s receipts, Burge’s alleged embezzlement began to become clear.

Rather than depositing the cash — typically small amounts less than $500 — with ASD, Burge allegedly pocketed much of the money, then simply failed to turn receipts over to the district. Since the district had no record of the money, Burge's actions went unnoticed.

“She estimated that she confiscated 70 percent of the cash,” said Anchorage Police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker.

The charging documents say Burge claimed she had kept the receipts that were supposed to go to the district, but that many burned in a house fire. She allegedly told investigators she first started taking money after incurring medical bills from an on-the-job injury, and that she had intended to pay the money back. She claimed she was under financial pressure, and first took money to pay for gas to get to work.

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

At the same time Burge’s thefts were uncovered, a second Chugiak employee, Gayle White, was also discovered to have been embezzling money from the school. White was also fired shortly after her thefts were uncovered. According to court records, White pled guilty to one count of theft in the second degree (theft of $500-$24,999) last month and was given a three-year suspended sentence.

Parker said the lengthy period between the discovery of Burge’s alleged embezzlement and her arrest was because it took so long to detail all of her thefts, which he said occurred in small amounts over a long period of time.

“There were literally hundreds of receipts that they had to compare,” he said.

On Nov. 9, a police forensics report determined that the difference between the cash Chugiak received and that which was delivered to ASD was $13,607 in school year 2007-08, $22,567 in ’08-09, $19,443 in ’09-10 and $19,279 in ’10-11.

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

If she remains in custody, prosecutors said Burge's next court date will be Nov. 22 in Anchorage; if she's out of custody, that hearing will be on Nov. 29.

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or [email protected]

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