The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

May 23, 2013

PTO officers charged with theft

Pair accused of taking $35,000

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

HERMITAGE — Hermitage police on Wednesday charged two officials of the Hermitage Parent-Teacher Organization with stealing more than $35,000 from the organization between May 2012 and March.

The school district and PTO released a joint statement announcing accounting changes that will make the district the custodian of PTO funds.

“Our hope is that we will be able to begin rebuilding that trust by committing to a comprehensive change in accounting procedures for the PTO,” said the statement, which was released by the superintendent’s office.

Police charged Executive PTO President Gina M. Grata, 45, of 293 Butterfly Lane, and Treasurer Kelly M. Vocaire, 41, of 158 N. Buhl Farm Drive, with theft and conspiracy to commit theft.

Police Deputy Chief for Investigations Eric Jewell said he intends to have Grata and Vocaire turn themselves in this morning for processing, and then take them for arraignment.

Vocaire is accused of stealing $25,299, and Grata $10,181.

The PTO bylaws say it supports the education of children by fostering relationships with schools, parents and teachers.

It works within the elementary and middle schools to raise money for student activities, working closely with school officials to identify needs and organize programs.

Artman Elementary School PTO Treasurer Nichole Hamelly told police she noticed discrepancies and asked to see the Executive PTO books to reconcile the records.

The Executive PTO oversees the Artman and Ionta-Delahunty PTOs.

Grata and Vocaire did not turn over the records Hamelly sought, despite repeated requests, police said.

Hamelly and Executive PTO Secretary Teresa Trontel obtained monthly statements and canceled checks from First National Bank, and PTO officials found canceled checks issued to Grata and Vocaire and made payable to them. They could not find invoices to match the checks, police said.

Police identified 68 checks made payable to Vocaire and 13 to Grata.

The PTO and FNB require the president and secretary to sign all checks, and Vocaire and Grata signed all of the unauthorized checks, police said.

PTO and school officials turned over their information to police April 29.

Police interviewed Grata May 1 and she admitted stealing $7,000 to $8,000 from the PTO in eight checks, police said.

She said she approached Vocaire in August about borrowing $1,500 from the PTO to pay a personal bill, and received a check in that amount, police said.

Grata said she later tried to return the loaned money, but Vocaire refused to accept it, saying an unexplained deposit would raise suspicion, police said.

“Grata added she received more checks from Vocaire upon request to pay bills and other ‘stuff,’ ” police said.

Grata told Vocaire she was going to make a deposit to pay back the money, but Vocaire said she could not because she is not the treasurer, police said.

“(Grata) said she was just too scared to do or say anything at that point,” police said.

Vocaire and Grata signed a large number of blank checks for convenience, but Grata denied altering or hiding records to cover up her theft or knowing if Vocaire also was stealing money, police said.

Vocaire declined to be interviewed by police, police said.

FNB records showed that Gina Grata deposited checks into the account of her and her husband, Michael A. Grata, and Vocaire deposited them into the account of herself and David K. Marriotti, police said.

The statement from the district and the PTO did not name Grata and Vocaire, but said the activity outlined by them in the police complaints was not reported to the PTO board and was “further concealed” by failing to produce bank statements.

The PTO and district froze the PTO bank account when they learned “the extent of the check writing,” and called police, the statement said.

“All available records were given to authorities,” the statement said.

“We hope that this is the beginning of the end for this distressing episode involving the Hermitage PTO and the Hermitage School District,” the statement said.

If proven guilty, Grata and Vocaire “betrayed a trust that involves all of our students,” the statement said.

PTO funds are “completely segregated” from school funds and no school funds were involved, the statement said.

The PTO supports the educational activities of district children and has a “long history of incredible support of the school district,” the statement said.

“The remaining members of the PTO are highly committed to continuing the high level of support to benefit our students,” it said.