DEPEW, N.Y. (WIVB) - Taxpayers filled up a fund with their hard-earned cash to help a school and now a former elementary school teacher admits she stole their money to feed her gambling habit.
Susan Jablonski could go to prison for up to four years. Between 2008 and 2010, while teaching at Cayuga Heights Elementary School, she was treasurer of the Parent Teacher Organization. And in that time, the 41-year-old used the PTO's bank card to pull out a total of $17,284.
Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita said, "You know, $17,000, it takes a while to accumulate that from the sale of brownies and chocolate chip cookies. And that's basically what she was doing. Taking the money from the bake sales."
It caught up with her last winter, when the PTO president got suspicious. The Depew School District turned what they knew over to investigators, who found Jablonski was gambling away the children's money at the casino.
Sedita says cases like this are common when there's a lack of oversight, and no threat of a yearly audit.
"We see this situation again, and again and again. The person entrusted with the money is the one embezzling because there is no one looking over his or her shoulder. There should always be more than one person managing any type of fundraisers," Sedita warned.
Depew Union-Free Superintendent Jeffrey Rabey says the PTO is learning from this case. Although the district does not oversee the parent-teacher organizations, it is offering help.
The $17,284 Jablonski stole is about half of what the PTO raises in a year. And it's enough money to pay for a least two years worth of field trips for the kids.
"Any amount of money is significant," Rabey said. "$17,000 is very significant. And when that's paid back, it will go directly to students."
He says in the meantime, there will be no interruption in school activities. And his message to parents is that this was an isolated case.
"It was just one individual," Rabey said. "It was not the system, it was not the parent-teacher organization in general."
When she pleaded guilty to third-degree attempted grand larceny Wednesday, Jablonski said she will pay back all the money at her sentencing in January.
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