A former Parent-Teacher Association treasurer at Chiles Elementary¬†swiped more than $13,000 from the group as she told parents there wasn't enough money to pay for school projects, a sworn complaint from law enforcement contends.
In Alachua County Sheriff's Detective Steve Yakel's sworn complaint filed Oct. 3, he suggested that Maria Austero-Walker, 41, of Newberry be charged with grant theft of more than $10,000, embezzlement and fraud. The complaint is in the hands of the State's Attorney, where prosecutors are reviewing the case and have been waiting for paperwork, spokesman Darry Lloyd said.
Austero-Walker made unauthorized charges from the PTA's account for personal expenses, including gas, restaurant tabs and Amazon purchases, the complaint said.
Austero-Walker could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Nick Zissimopulos, declined to say much while the case is open, but offered through an email that "I am helping Mrs. Walker with this situation.¬†We are cooperating with the authorities and working to resolve everything in an appropriate and timely manner."
Alachua County Council of PTAs President Khana-Lien Banko said the Chiles Elementary PTA and the county PTA expect the case to be prosecuted.
"We want to make sure if people are taking from children that they are held accountable," Banko said.
Austero-Walker was Chiles' PTA treasurer in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, Yakel wrote in the complaint. Her unauthorized charges weren't in the official PTA finance ledger and were only discovered when the actual bank statements were reviewed, he wrote.
The amount taken from the school's PTA was at least $13,455.63, but could be higher than that, the complaint said.
During the 2016-2017 school year, PTA board members and parents asked to spend money they had generated through various fundraisers, but Austero-Walker told them there wasn't enough money to take on the projects, Yakel wrote, but a review of the records showed the group in fact did have enough money to handle the projects.
The school's PTA gave deputies a letter saying the group wants to press charges.
Banko, of the county PTA organization, said since the county association was rechartered in May 2015, it has offered about three free financial responsibility training sessions a year for those involved in PTA or other school groups such as band or athletic boosters, to ensure that volunteers who may have little background in bookkeeping understand basic money-handling practices.