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Ex-employee convicted of felony theft from Dayton charter school

A state audit released Tuesday on the DECA Prep charter school in Dayton identifies a small case of misspent money, but school officials confirm auditors are finishing a larger investigation that has already led to a criminal conviction.

The state’s delayed audit for 2015-16 includes a finding for recovery of $4,489 that DECA Prep overpaid to a teacher who used maternity leave in 2015-16. But the audit adds that there is “an ongoing investigation” of spending by the Dayton Early College Academy, which operates elementary, middle and high schools.

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Dave Taylor, deputy superintendent for all of the DECA schools, acknowledged a “situation we’ve been working on for some time.”

“We learned (in January 2017) of an employee’s improper practices, and immediately conducted an investigation and determined that there was some validity to it,” Taylor said. “We immediately moved for termination and self-reported the issue.”

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Taylor would not give the name of the employee.

Court records show Cindi Shoemaker, assistant to the treasurer for DECA schools, was indicted and convicted for fourth-degree felony theft earlier this year.

Shoemaker could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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A civil suit filed by Shoemaker in 2017 paints a picture of the case. Shoemaker claimed DECA fired her in retaliation — after she complained repeatedly about working more hours than her contract called for, without compensation.

DECA filed a counter-claim, saying it had discovered “improper transactions on corporate credit cards used by Shoemaker prior to August 2016” totaling $41,780.35. DECA’s claims say Shoemaker was solely responsible for DECA’s corporate credit card processes for eight years until treasurer Nick Martin took over that area in 2016.

Shoemaker was indicted last August for theft of $7,500 to $150,000, and the civil case was stayed in November. Shoemaker pleaded no contest to the criminal theft charge in January and was sentenced in February — five years of probation, $500 restitution and a prohibition against working any job handling cash or finances.

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“This person was working to cover their tracks, so we had to work really hard to figure out the scope of these issues,” Taylor said. “This is not in line with our values or the kind of people we are as an organization. It’s incredibly frustrating. Our top priorities were to make sure the public’s money was restored, and we have been made whole in that way.”

Taylor said the school filed a claim with its insurance company, which paid the claim to restore taxpayer dollars.

The state auditor’s office has not yet issued DECA schools’ 2016-17 annual audit, which will include details of this case.

The finding for recovery of $4,489 in the 2015-16 DECA Prep audit was repaid via a Dayton Foundation fund that supports DECA Prep. The school’s formal response to that finding says the problem was with an employee who “has since been terminated and replaced,” and cites “an issue with personnel entering the correct information into our accounting software.”

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Last week’s 2015-16 audit of the Dayton Early College Academy, DECA’s high school, included a $557 finding against Taylor because documentation to explain a reimbursement to him was missing. The school’s response pointed to “receipts and invoices that were misplaced by Treasurer office personnel,” and again said the employee in question had been terminated.

Taylor said the school has added safeguards to “close loopholes” and is not aware of other such errors, pending the closure of the state auditor’s investigation.

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