Former Bookkeeper In Marion County Took More Than $35,000 From Whitwell High School

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The former bookkeeper at Whitwell High School in Marion County pocketed at least $35,332 in cash collected for school activities, an investigation by the comptroller’s office has found. 

Lois Vandergriff, the former bookkeeper, used several methods to conceal the theft of the money, officials said.  These included exchanging checks collected from school activities to replace some of the missing cash and providing false and inconsistent information to school staff, administrators and auditors.

Investigators from the comptroller’s office shared their findings with the local district attorney general. Earlier this year, the Marion County Grand Jury indicted Vandergriff on one count of theft over $10,000 and one count of vandalism.

Investigators also learned that Vandergriff had issued school checks totaling more than $5,977 to herself, with documentation on purchases for only $2,700 of that amount. The documented expenses included a number of questionable items such as dog food, dog treats, cigarettes and soft drinks. Investigators could not determine if the documented purchases were for legitimate school needs. 

Vandergriff also issued $902.42 in checks to her son, ostensibly for yard work and reimbursement for items purchased on behalf of the school. Investigators couldn’t determine if all of those expenses were for the school’s benefit.

The investigative report, which was released Tuesday, outlined other concerns about the school’s money-handling and recordkeeping practices.

Vandergriff was allowed to handle all aspects of financial transactions, from receiving money to keeping accounting records to depositing money in the bank. Best practices in accounting suggest that those duties be divided among multiple employees so those employees can check each other’s work. said officials. 

Also, school faculty members didn’t keep accurate and complete records of the money they were turning over to the bookkeeper following events, said officials.

School officials indicated they have made changes that address the deficiencies highlighted by investigators. 

“Fraud, waste or abuse of public money is never acceptable, but it’s particularly troublesome when that money would have benefited schoolchildren,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “I’m encouraged that school officials are taking steps to correct the problems we identified. That should reduce the chances of something like this happening there again.”

To view the investigation online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/

If you suspect fraud, waste or abuse of public money in Tennessee, call the comptroller’s hot line at 800.232-5454 or fill out a report online at http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/shared/safwa.asp.


Georgia Man Arrested For Aggressive Panhandling On Shallowford Road

Timothy Catlett was arrested for panhandling on Shallowford Road on Tuesday. Catlett was seen at Shallowford Road and Highway 153 stopping traffic and yelling at drivers who did not stop and give money. Police said that Catlett told drivers that he was a hurt Army veteran. Though Catlett resides in the state of Georgia, he has been cited for panhandling around the city of Chattanooga ... (click for more)

Montrell Besley Kicks Off Campaign For School Board

Montrell Besley will be running for a seat on the Hamilton County School Board, District 4.  He is a Chattanooga native and father to three kids. He grew up in the Alton Park community, where he currently resides.   He is a graduate from Austin Peay State University with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Health and Human Performance and attained his Masters of Science ... (click for more)

Jill Levine Is An Educational Rock Star

No one has covered the Hamilton County Department of Education drama better than Roy Exum.  Thank you, Roy, but I take issue with your unnamed sources.  Professional jealousy and sour grape darts should not be anonymous.   HCDE is so dysfunctional, and there is good cause to place this public organization under a microscope, dissect it into pieces and discard all ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Cancer Is Not A Battle

I read a marvelous essay not long ago where the author urged, “Stop telling the lie that cancer is a battle … a battle implies a fair fight, and there was nothing fair about my cancer or the cancer that took the life of my friend. Those experiences were about as fair as getting hit by a car – and nobody says people lose their battles with automobiles.” Mary Elizabeth Williams, ... (click for more)

McMasters Makes Tough Call To Play Volleyball At Lee

Grace Baptist Academy two-sport standout Claire McMasters envisioned playing basketball and volleyball at a small college after her career ended with the Lady Golden Eagles. So, she “looked at” Covenant College and Maryville College as two schools where she thought that would be possible to extend her two-sport status. McMasters’ recruiting shifted quickly once Lee University ... (click for more)

East Hamilton's Briar Potter To Wrestle At MTSU

It seemed like Briar Potter made history for East Hamilton every time he stepped onto the wrestling mat these last four years. He was a four-year starter and qualified for the state meet in all of those years.   He was the Hurricanes first state medalist when he finished fourth at 106 pounds as a sophomore. He is surely the winningest Hurricane with 98 wins and he’s ... (click for more)