By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
Randall T. Hetrick said Gina M Grata did all that she could do.
“Ms. Grata has taken full responsibility for her actions and she has never blamed anyone else for her share of what she has done,” Hetrick said of Grata, who has pleaded guilty to theft for stealing money from the Hermitage Parent-Teacher Organization.
She admitted to police what she had done and has paid back the $10,181 she stole, Hetrick said.
“She is not a bad person, she did a very bad thing,” he said.
While acknowledging that Grata had done what Hetrick said, Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert G. Yeatts had a different take on Grata, 46, of 57 Concord Road, Hermitage.
“Is a person who steals money from children and tries to cover it up a good person?” said Yeatts, who sentenced Grata to 5 years’ probation. “I wonder if the members of the PTO and the children would call you a good person.
“You made a conscious attempt to steal repeatedly. I don’t consider that a mistake,” Yeatts said, referring to Hetrick’s characterization of her crime.
Grata, who has been treated for depression since the case broke, apologized to the PTO, school officials, her family and friends.
"I have embarrassed everybody," she said.
Grata, who was PTO president, said she ran into a financial pinch, partly due to country club and golf fees, and asked PTO treasurer Kelly M. Vocaire, also charged in the case, for a loan.
“I tried to pay it back and I wanted her to take it back,” Grata said. “She said she couldn’t take it back because it would put up a red flag.”
But, Grata continued to “borrow” money, from the PTO, a total of 13 times, according to the number of checks from the PTO account made payable to her.
“The whole scenario doesn’t make sense to me,” Yeatts said.
The judge pounced on Grata’s statement that she was in a pinch due to country club and golf fees. He said he has had defendants come before him and admit stealing money for drugs or to feed their families, or any number of other reasons.
“That’s a new one on me,” he said of country club fees. “I’ve never had anyone who stole because of their country club membership. That’s amazing to me.”
He also said that, yes, Grata took responsibility, but only after she was approached by police. PTO officials who noticed discrepancies asked Grata for financial information, and she refused to turn it over, Yeatts said. In fact, she blamed the PTO official who approached her, he said.
While Yeatts was bound to the 5 years of probation by virtue of having accepted her plea agreement, he had the discretion to tailor the terms of her supervision as he saw fit.
He ordered that she perform 350 hours’ community service, forfeit any country club memberships and not join a country club. She is not allowed to go to a country club unless she is attending a private function, such as a wedding.
“You’re at the bottom,” Yeatts said. “Now, you’re going to have to prove your worth to the community.”